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Was Egon Schiele Abusive? The Debate Continues

Antonia R.Antonia R.

Egon Schiele's erotic drawings are disturbing to many, while his nude works have been controversial in his time and continue to be in ours. Perhaps most shocking about him is his relationships with the women he painted, while it is still unclear whether or not he was a rapist as well.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of his death, his works still alluding to suspicions of sexual abuse.

In 1912, his art was described as publicly immoral since it depicted women in a brutally naked way, the likes of which had not been seen at that time in Austria.

Of course this raises the question of to what degree he respected his models, considering he showed them in such a raw light. However, his reputation of a rapist of the fairer sex isn't owed to his pictures alone.

One evening the artist and his lover, Wally Neuzil, were traveling from Vienna to the provincial town of Neulengbach. Their car was stopped by a teenager who said she had run away from home and who asked the couple to take her to her grandmother's place.

When she returned to Vienna, the girl's story was a different one. She told her father that Schiele had kidnapped and raped her, and they filed charges against him. However, no concrete evidence was found and Egon Schiele was sentenced to 24 days in jail for misconduct.

Ultimately, it wasn't the teenager's accusations that led to him being sent to jail but his works. When police searched his apartment they found the shocking drawings, subsequently leading to new charges - of misconduct.

Schiele Painting

His relationship with Wally Neuzil was also borderline illegal, since she was a minor. Authorities were supposed to arrest them but since Wally was a prostitute, and such a relationship was not illegal, no serious charges were filed.

It also comes as no surprise that shortly before his 25th birthday he dumped Wally in order to devote himself to a more suitable, bourgeoisie partner - Edith Harms.

According to art historians though, it would be a fallacy to accuse Schiele of sexual misconduct. The mindset was different 100 years ago, plus Schiele used the female body to highlight his personal perceptions of beauty, not to offend.

Schiele drew and painted from a nearly vertical viewpoint, in order to create a better feeling of depth. He would often ask his model to lie on a mattress, while he climbed up on a chair or ladder, to draw her whilst looking down.