Egon Schiele – Melancholy of Suburbs and Small Towns

27 Jun

Suburbs and small towns of Middle Europe held a particular charm for Egon Schiele who often yearned to escape the ‘dark and dreadful’ city of Vienna, and venture to provinces and nature around the Czech town of Krumau.

1918. Edge of Town (Krumau Town Crescent), 1918 Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, Edge of Town (Krumau Town Crescent), 1918

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Schiele’s paintings of Krumau from early 1910s offer a decaying vision of this peaceful town situated in the South Bohemia. Unlike the Impressionists who simply couldn’t resist capturing the moment and the play of sunlight on bridges or cathedrals, Schiele captured his inner turmoil while simultaneously portraying the colourful facades and narrow streets of Krumau. From the pictures I’ve seen, Krumau seems like an interesting town and its beauty reveals itself in many aspects; from the mischievous river Vltava and the illustrious Medieval castle overlooking the town, to cobble streets and classic Central European architecture. However, on Schiele’s paintings, the town holds a different appeal. Look at the painting ‘Edge of Town’; crowded houses and intermingled roofs, radiant colours and simplified brushstrokes – like a kaleidoscop of colours and shapes. Schiele himself was never a disciple of accuracy in portrayal of landscapes. And thank God for that, because the very sight of ‘normal’ veduta makes my skin crawl! In Schiele’s paintings there’s intensity, emotions and chaos.

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1915. House with Shingles by Egon SchieleEgon Schiele, House with Shingles, 1915

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Town of Krumau first caught Schiele’s attention in May 1910 when he, a month shy from his twentieth birthday, visited the place with two comrades and fellow painters; Anton Peschka and Ervin Osen. The town must have seemed like an interesting place for him because it was the birthplace of his mother, and he must have heard about the beautiful nature that surrounds it. On the whole, he settled there, in a ‘little house with a garden on the Moldau (Vltava) River’*, in May 1911, along with Wally Neuzil, his lover and model.

When painting suburbs and small town scenes, Schiele placed his focus not on details and photographic precision, but rather on the mood of the place. To understand why he liked small towns and suburbs you need to know his opinion of big towns and cities. It wasn’t just Schiele, but his whole generation, the artists and the poets, who deliberately continued in their work the fin de siecle vision of cities as places of decay and loss of humanity. For them, modern life and its reflection – the cities, along with the horrors of the First World War, were seen as the products of ‘materialistic tendencies of our civilisation’.

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1917. Egon Schiele - Summer Landscape at KrumauEgon Schiele, Summer Landscape, Krumau, 1917

1914. Egon Schiele, Houses with Laundry, SeeburgEgon Schiele, Houses with Laundry, Seeburg, 1914

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We could say that Schiele liked small towns because they were stark contrasts to his everyday life in Vienna – a city he experienced as ‘dark and full of shadows’.

He said: “I want to be alone. I want to go to the Bohemian Forest. May, June, July, August, September, October. I must see new things and investigate them. I want to taste dark water and see crackling trees and wild winds. I want to gaze with astonishment at moldy garden fences, I want to experience them all, to hear young birch plantations and trembling leaves, to see light and sun, enjoy wet, green-blue valleys in the evening, sense goldfish glinting, see white clouds building up in the sky, to speak to flowers. I want to look intently at grasses and pink people, old venerable churches, to know what little cathedrals say, to run without stopping along curving meadowy slopes across vast plains, kiss the earth and smell soft warm marshland flowers. And then I shall shape things so beautifully: fields of colour…

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1917. Egon Schiele, House with Drying LaundryEgon Schiele, House with Drying Laundry, 1917

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Paintings such as ‘House with Shingles’ and ‘House with Drying Laundry’ best evoke Schiele’s love for simplicity and peacefulness of provincial life. In them, he portrayed pell-mell built houses with drab facades, small windows, some broken some not, old roof that’s probably leaking, old chimneys, and then the colourful clothes on the washing line. I just love seeing clothes on washing line! These scenes evoke so many questions: who lived in those houses, how did they live and where are they now? Again we see the typical Egon Schiele colour palette; earthy colours of wood, sand and mud, grays and dark greens. Schiele’s houses are heavy and brown, like they grew from the earth itself, or like they descend into it.

This poem by Russian poet Alexander Blok reminds me of Schiele’s apocalyptic vision of cities:

The night. The street. Street-lamp. Drugstore.

A meaningless dull light about.

You may live twenty-five years more;

All will still be there. No way out.

 

You die. You start again and all

Will be repeated as before:

The cold rippling of a canal.

The night. The street. Street-lamp. Drugstore.

(Alexander Blok, written on 10 October 1912, translated by Vladimir Markov and Merrill Sparks*)

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1910. Egon Schiele - Houses on the Moldau, KrumauEgon Schiele, Houses on the Moldau, Krumau, 1910

Egon Schiele was born on 12th June 1890, which means I recently celebrated his birthday by fully engulfing myself into his art. Rereading about artists is the best thing ever because there’s always a new aspect of their art that I love. Schiele first lured me with his nudes, then I was crazy about his sunflowers, and now, well, you see that I’m enchanted with his Krumau scenes.

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6 Responses to “Egon Schiele – Melancholy of Suburbs and Small Towns”

  1. Elliot 28th June 2016 at 5:03 pm #

    I love ‘Edge of Town’ and ‘Summer Landscape’ such interesting paintings, the colours and shapes are fab, thank you for writing about all these different artists – I think I’ve learnt more about art from your blog than I ever did in school!

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    • Byron's Muse 28th June 2016 at 6:03 pm #

      ‘Edge of Town’ is my favourite too, the colours are exquisite. Wow, that’s a huge compliment, thank you, and I’m glad you think so! Although lately I’ve been thinking that I lack diversity on the blog, guess I was wrong. Thanks again. What have you been up to recently, in terms of culture and books, if I may ask?

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      • Elliot 28th June 2016 at 7:54 pm #

        You may ask, as regards books I have just started Hans Andersen’s fairy tales which are proving to be quite shocking, in that I cannot predict what will happen next! They are gritty, strong stories with complicated morals that are much more rewarding to the mind than Disney fluff. I love fairy & folk tales particularly old ones. As for culture I went to see a great film called ‘Tale of Tales’ based on old Italian fairy stories (there’s a theme here) which was gruesome and very adult but incredibly well-made and acted, with smashing visuals. Also if you’re into 70’s culture and style then I would recommend ‘The Nice Guys’ which I saw the other day – hilarious stuff. Also been listening to the soundtrack of the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ film, perhaps not the best adaptation but the score is divine. And you?

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        • Byron's Muse 28th June 2016 at 10:41 pm #

          I highly dislike Disney stuff, so artificial. Andersen’s fairy tales are a great choice. That reminds me of a quote by C.S.Lewis: ‘When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly.’ Perhaps you’d enjoy ‘The Storyteller’ series with John Hurt, I used to love watching it, so imaginative. And I was meaning to watch ‘Tale of Tales’ for a long time, I definitely will now that you’re recommending it. Well, I’ve been into Czech films with great aesthetics and I think you’d appreciate Jan Svankmajer’s Alice (1988); an artsy and dark version of Alice in Wonderland. I thought of you when I watched Ken Loach’s film Kes (1969) because the boy reads about birds and trains a kestrel, it’s really sad because the bird is all he has. I’ve read Patti Smith’s biography ‘Just kids’ and it was beautiful, just like the melodies of Bedrich Smetana’s Vltava and Vyšehrad which I think you’d like. I’ve also started reading Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’; it’s a criticism of European imperialism so it’s kind of depressing.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Elliot 29th June 2016 at 12:31 pm #

            I have heard of that Alice film, I do love the books so I would be interested to see an unusual take on it. I have also heard of Kes but have yet to get around to watching it, should do though. That C.S. Lewis quote could describe me except I have always read fantasy and fairy tales without feeling embarrassed.

            Liked by 1 person

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  1. Egon Schiele – Neuelengbach Affair – Martyr for the Cause of Art: Part I | Byron's muse - 21st April 2017

    […] I already wrote in my post about Egon Schiele’s Krumau Scenes, small towns and suburbs held a particular charm for this artist, and even before coming to Krumau […]

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