But a new exhibition at Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum highlights the other side of Schiele's work, tracing the artist's changing style through a collection of 100 watercolors, gouaches and drawings.
While Schiele's trademark grotesque sexuality is in full display here - captured by numerous nudes and self-portraits, including a canvas of the artist masturbating - also exhibited are his still-lifes, landscapes and a series of more realist nudes that he painted later in his life.
The show opens with Sunflowers (1909), Schiele's Art Nouveau tribute to the Vincent Van Gogh painting of the same title. Elongated flower heads drooping, the painting evokes an ochre gloom absent from the original. It follows with Room in Neulengbach (1911), inspired by Van Gogh's The Bedroom (1888). Sex, death and discovery, of course, remain Schiele's bread and butter. "He used sex as an artistic weapon," the museum's curator John Leighton explained to Agence Fance Press. Beyond the signature female nudes, this comes through in the artist's range of expressive self-portraits. Labeled a narcissistic exhibitionist by several contemporaries, Schiele painted himself alternatively with an effeminate touch, as a dandy, as a hideous nude, and, interestingly, masturbating. Never absent, though, is the honest portrayal of melancholy and angst he was known to possess.
As the writer Arthur Roessler once said of his friend: "Schiele's unusual looks stood out... The features of his face were usually fixed in an earnest, almost sad expression, as though caused by pains which made him weep inwardly."
Death left its mark on the young artist and appeared throughout his work, notably after his father died of syphilis in 1905. In the exhibit's sole portrait of his mother, "Dead Mother," a pale, bony woman takes a back seat to the fetus-like ruby baby bundled in black cloth at the center of the canvas. The portrait was painted in 1910 when his mother was very much still alive. The Egon Schiele retrospective runs through June 19 at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. See http://www.vangoghmuseum.nl for more details.