A Surprising Artwork from Egon Schiele

The shimmering waters of the Harbour of Trieste

Christopher P Jones
5 min readJun 8, 2023

--

Hafen von Triest (1907) by Egon Schiele. Oil and pencil on card. 25 × 18 cm. Private collection. Image source Wikimedia Commons

When you enter the world of artist Egon Schiele, you enter a place of texture, impressions, sensitive lines and nervous crinkles.

As a prominent Austrian artist working in the early 20th century, Schiele’s art became celebrated for its honest portrayal of psychological vulnerability and the power of individual expression.

There is a certain raw eloquence to his best-known works: distorted bodies, lines that zigzag, blocks of colour that start and end abruptly, all conveyed with a seasoning of angst.

Detail of ‘Self-portrait’ (1912) by Egon Schiele. Pencil, watercolour and tempera on paper. 46.5 × 31.5 cm. Private collection. Image source Wikimedia Commons

Schiele’s works are not hushed. They murmur, groan, wince, and sometimes growl. This is one of the reasons that his images are not easy to define: they move according to the artist’s unsettled hand. They are direct impressions of his nervous system.

What gives Schiele’s work much of its taut energy is his use of line. He was an artist who painted and drew with brute contours and unwavering definition. His lines seem to rummage around within themselves — marks and boundaries that reveal forms as if they have burrowed through the paper they are painted on.

Scornful Woman (1910) by Egon Schiele. Watercolour on paper. Private collection. Image source WikiArt

Most of all, Schiele was an artist who did not hold back. His portraits — of himself and others — have a vinegary harshness, which is exactly what makes them appealing. To look at them is to be confronted by something obscene and coarse, and utterly brilliant at the same time.

A Surprising Early Work

To understand Schiele’s development, it’s interesting to look at one of his early paintings, a piece called Hafen von Trieste (Harbour of Trieste) made in 1907 when he was only 17 years old.

I only saw it for the first time recently, and it surprised me because of its traditional theme — so unlike the works he is famous for today. In fact, it was in line with his chosen subject matter at…

--

--