Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Egon Schiele

The short-lived Schiele (1890-1918) was a great expressionist portraitist, whose work shows the strong influence of his mentor and friend, Gustav Klimt. He also had a troubled life...

When they came to his studio to place him under arrest, the police seized more than a hundred drawings which they considered pornographic. Schiele was imprisoned while awaiting his trial. When his case was brought before a judge, the charges of seduction and abduction were dropped, but the artist was found guilty of exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children. In court, the judge burned one of the offending drawings over a candle flame. The twenty-one days he had already spent in custody were taken into account, and he was sentenced to only three days' imprisonment. While in prison, Schiele created a series of 12 paintings depicting the difficulties & discomfort of being locked in a jail-cell.

Schiele was killed by the 1918 flu outbreak. His life is ripe for the novelist's treatment, and as far as I know, this has happened twice in recent years. First was Joanna Scott, with Arrogance.

This features a typically moody, scratchy Schiele self-portrait on the cover.

This year, Lewis Crofts has also published a novel about Schiele, The Pornographer of Vienna, which features one of Schiele's paintings of his wife, Edith Harms, on the wraparound cover.

The cover design has caused a small stir because of the spine (look closely just above the publisher's colophon). One Amazon UK reviewer rants amusingly about the disgusting display of what she calls "ladyparts".

Other novels have used Schiele's artwork to good effect. The wonderful Joseph Roth, by the way, was also a product of turn-of-the-century Austria-Hungary, part of that era's great cultural flowering (Klimt, Schnitzler, Kafka, Zweig, etc) that was eventually destroyed by Hitler.

UPDATE: The Pornographer of Vienna author Lewis Crofts has kindly responded to this post. Please see the comments.

UPDATE 2: Came across another one...


Lewis Crofts said...

Really interesting piece on Schiele and the front covers of books. Glad to see there are critics out there with such an appreciation of Schiele... and of how to use the spines of books to greater effect!


JRSM said...

Thanks, Lewis. I have your book on order, and am looking forward to reading it very much!