Portrait of Wally by Egon Schiele

Portrait of Wally by Egon Schiele

My Daily Art Display today is a continuation from yesterday’s life of Egon Schiele so if you have just landed on today’s page, it would be worthwhile for you to look at yesterday’s blog before reading today’s offering.

The story of Egon Schiele’s life in My Daily Art Display yesterday reached 1910 when the artist had reached twenty years of age and was living in Vienna.   He was the complete bohemian, an independent free spirit, and a great draughtsman with little or no care for anyone or anything outside his own close circle.  The following year, Schiele met the seventeen year old artist model, and at one time a model for Gustav Klimt, Valerie Neuzil, whom he nicknamed “Wally”.  He was immediately mesmerised by her youthful beauty and soon she moved in with him and became his lover as well as his model.  Schiele had fallen out of love with Vienna and he and his lover moved to Cesky Krumlov in Southern Bohemia, the birthplace of his mother.  His residency here did not last long as the residents were up in arms with his and his lover’s behaviour and his use of local teenage girls as his nude models.  Reluctantly he moved back to Austria and he and Valerie set up home in Neulengbach, a quiet village in the pastoral, tranquil countryside of Lower Austria, some twenty miles to the west of Vienna. 

This was a mistake on the part of Schiele because although Vienna tolerated his bohemian way of the life, this small village with its retired officers and elderly neighbours, who were always interested in their neighbours’ business, certainly did not.  Schiele’s studio had a small garden attached to it and this became home to many of the local children who sought escape from their mundane lives.  Schiele managed to persuade many of the young girls to pose for him, often naked so that he could indulge in the intimate figure drawings that had become an obsession to him since he lost his childhood interest of sketching trains.   His behaviour and his use of under-age girls as models fell foul of the authorities.  The final straw came when a thirteen year old girl, Tatjana van Mossig, daughter of a retired naval officer ran away from her home and sought refuge at the home of Schiele and his lover “Wally” and although she returned home “unharmed” after a week, her father accused Schiele of kidnapping.  He was arrested by the police on April 13th 1912, for seducing the girl below the age of consent.   The police, when they arrested Schiele, raided his workshop and confiscated many of his drawings which they termed as pornographic.   He came before the judiciary and was sentenced to twenty-four days in prison for exhibiting pornographic material – the original charge of seducing an underage girl having been dropped prior to his trial.  During his time of incarceration, he produced thirteen watercolour drawings that bear witness to his “sufferings”.

Once released it was obvious to Schiele that he had to move away from Neulengbach and he returned to Vienna where he rented a studio which he retained for the rest of his life.  By 1914 Schiele’s financial situation was dire even though he had good reviews for some of his exhibited works and had gained a couple of new patrons.   This same year his favourite sister Gertri marries his friend.  It was at this point that Schiele realises he needed a wife and although he still lived with his lover Valeri “Wally” Neuzil, he resolved to find a more “acceptable” partner.   He intensifies his relationship with two sisters, Adele and Edith Harms whom he had recently encountered and who lived with their middle-class bourgeois Protestant parents across from his studio.  A year later, in 1915 he decided, (in his wisdom?), to marry the more socially-accepted Edith, the younger of the sisters.  However he had not given up his relationship with “Wally” who had always remained faithful to him but was considered by him to be socially inferior in comparison to the Harms’ girls.  He asked her if she would remain his lover.   She was devastated by the turn of events and, not unexpectedly, she would not agree to Schiele’s strategy and she left him.  Schiele and Edith married on June 17th 1915 on the wedding anniversary of his parents. 

World War I intervened and Schiele was called-up to join the army.  He was stationed in Prague and fortunately for him the officers of his corps were so impressed with his artistic talents they allowed him to continue with his art whilst he was involved in non-combative work for the army.   Schiele was never involved in the fighting and managed to keep well away from the Russian Front.  In 1917 he was transferred to the Military Supply Depot in Vienna.  His duties were relatively light and he was able to carry on with his art and continued to regularly exhibit his works in the Austrian capital as well as Zurich, Prague and Dresden.

In February 1918 Gustav Klimt dies and suddenly Egon Schiele is recognised as the leading Austrian artist.  His new status is confirmed by his sell-out exhibition at the Vienna Secession that March.  In June he is transferred to the Army Museum where he is given free rein to pursue his artistic activities.  He becomes financially better off and moves into a larger studio.  Sadly, the Spanish flu epidemic hit Europe, claiming the lives of twenty million people.  Vienna was eventually affected by this devastating epidemic and one of its victims was Schiele’s wife Edith who was six month pregnant.  Sadly, three days later on October 31st 1918, the 28 year-old artist, Egon Schiele, died.

The painting featured in My Daily Art Display is entitled Portrait of Wally and was completed in 1912.  It was bought in 1954 by Rudolf Leopold, a wealthy Austrian art collector, whose collection of more than 5000 works of art were bought by the Austrian government and became part of the collection of the Leopold Museum.  However when an exhibition of Schiele’s works including today’s painting was held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1997, this painting was seized on the orders emanating from the New York County District Attorney.  The U.S. customs refused to let the work leave the country after Henry Bondi of Princeton, N.J., filed a claim that said his late aunt, Lea Bondi Jaray, was forced to sell the painting at a vastly reduced price to the Nazis before fleeing Vienna in 1939 to escape to London when Germany annexed Austria. 

Member of Leopold Museum staff with returned painting (2010)

The litigation brought by Henry Bondi lasted twelve years and was finally settled in 2010 when the Leopold Museum of Vienna agreed to pay 19 million US dollars to the estate of Lea Bondi Jaray who died in 1969 and her nephew Henry who brought the litigation had also passed away.