Flashback no. 4: Egon Schiele's flowers at Leopold Museum, Vienna (27 January 2017)
The Leopold Museum in Vienna's MuseumsQuartier is one the many gems of the city's outstanding cultural offering, arguably among the richest in Europe. The museum offers a comprehensive overview of Austrian art from the second half of the 19th century and Modernism (incl. works by Klimt and Kokoschka) and is home to the largest Schiele collection in the world.
It's a rather tragic story that of Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele. After losing his dad to syphylis when he was only 14, he succumbed to the Spanish flu at the cruelly tender age of 28, only three days after his pregnant wife Edith. In light of such a premature demise, the breadth and complexity of his incredibly prolific practice look all the more impressive.
Schiele is of course better known for his erotically-charged nudes and tormented self-portraits, but I immediately gravitated towards these extraordinary paintings. I will talk about his beautifully layered landscapes in another post.
The pictures are similar in their symmetrical composition, with the flower placed at the centre of the canvas. The fleshy purple iris stands out against a glowing gold background, while the cluster of chrysanthemums forcefully emerges from the dark. Neither of these highly stylised works is however about the actual representation of the flowers. What I see here are lines, patterns, shapes and blocks of colour coming together in an almost abstract composition. There is tension in these flowers, a certain restlessness, there is nothing gentle about them. On second thought, perhaps they are not that different from Schiele's twisted, writhing naked bodies after all.
Stylized Flowers in Front of a Decorative Background (1908)