Review: Egon Schiele Portraits

Egon Schiele "Portrait of Edith Schiele"

Egon Schiele “Portrait of Edith Schiele”

A few years ago, I visited a gallery that was hosting an exhibition of small drawings and watercolors by Egon Schiele. The works were for sale starting at a paltry $500,000 for a pencil drawing. I talked to the girl at the desk and said I had been a fan since the early 1970s. She said, “Oh, back then you could have got one for $1,000.” Of course, I was only a teenager and back then a thousand was a lot of money, but Schiele was not the artistic rock star he is today and his work was cheap.

Each time a new show goes up, the latest exhibition is at the Neue Galerie which focuses on his portraits, his reputation just grows.

Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele

Schiele (1890-1918) was a well rounded artist who studied with Gustav Klimt and exhibited with the renowned Secessionism movement. His landscapes are a wonderful amalgam of decoration and expressionism, but it is his figures and portraits that really separate him from the crowd.

The Neue Galerie show is magnificent. It is arranged into sections: friends, commissions, self portraits (along with Rembrandt he may have the most self portraits) and women.

Egon Schiele "Portrait of Arnold Schonberg"

Egon Schiele “Portrait of Arnold Schonberg”

While this show is about portraits, it is impossible to separate the faces from the figures. His amazing brushwork is vital and dynamic, and the colors and washes produce texture that challenges the viewer to explore every inch on the image.

His small works on paper use pencil, gouache and watercolor. The faces are highlighted and the pencil marks trail away. He has an fantastic knack of scribbling a few lines that suggest an entire, flowing dress, or a simple shoulder to create a suit.

In the self portraits, he contorts his body as if playing with shapes. At first glance one would think that he is not trying for attractiveness, but one could also argue that he is presenting himself as an artist would want to be seen. He does the same for his friends. The poses and faces are as much acting the part of the artist as straight representation.

Egon Schiele Self Portrait

Egon Schiele Self Portrait

And the hands, oh my goodness, the hands. Always fingers splayed out, overlapping, curled around — knuckles exaggerated and darkly colored. His hands may be the most expressive in the history of painting.

No Schiele exhibition would be complete without the pictures of women. Like the self portraits, the figures are elongated and twisted, ribs sticking out, legs spread, half dressed. One cannot escape the raw sexuality of the images — nor would one want to. Any nude is sensual, but Schiele goes further. Here is a celebration of sex, of woman, of nature.

For those unable to visit the show, an excellent catalogue is available through the museum or online. It is also worth checking out the catalogue for “Egon Schiele’s Women” which was held in London last year.

Egon Schiele Self Portrait

Egon Schiele Self Portrait

This blog is more of a gush than an objective piece of writing and I make no apologies. If he was as relatively obscure as he was when I was a teenager I would spend my money on nothing else. As it is, I have to make do with a few prints and some amazing catalogues, and wait for the next show.

The most important thing about Schiele is that he, more than any other artist, inspires me to rush back to the studio and work.


The Subject is Women: Motesiczky’s Mother and Madame Cezanne

Two women. Two art exhibitions. Two very different approaches.

Marie-Louise Motesiczky "The Old Song" 1959

Marie-Louise Motesiczky
“The Old Song” 1959

Marie-Louise Motesiczky‘s “The Mother Paintings” at Galerie St. Etienne, is a fascinating look at the life of one woman as she ages while trying to retain her dignity in exile.

Motesiczky’s mother, Henrietta, grew up in an influential Viennese Jewish family. Her mother, Anna, who was written about by Sigmund Freud. When Marie-Louise’s father died in 1909, she became her mother’s caregiver.

Marie-Louise Motesiczky "Mother With Baton"

Marie-Louise Motesiczky
“Mother With Baton”

In 1927, Marie-Louise studied under Max Beckmann and his stylistic influence is particularly noticeable in “The Travelers,” painted in 1940, which chronicles the two women’s escape from the Nazis to England, where they settled in Amersham, a village less than 30 miles north of London.

Over the next 40 years, Marie-Louise painted a series of images that ranged from portraits to narrative. The exhibition literature describes her style as representational expressionism. She clearly has the dynamic and colorful style of the expressionists, and some of her portraits have the feel of Oskar Kokoschka.

The portraits of her mother form a stunning document of a life. Marie-Louise’s paintings are honest and do not shirk from seeing frailty, yet they also are painted with love.

Marie-Louise Motesiczky "The Travelers"

Marie-Louise Motesiczky
“The Travelers”

The gallery release quotes Motesiczky, stating, “She was almost radiant each time I came into the room. I thought that if I could paint what I saw when she was in this decrepit state, without embellishment and concentrating on the genuine charm in her expression, then I would have done a great thing….I was hoping that the overall impression would convey something of the immediate joy and hope she would show when someone came near her.”

The 35 paintings and drawings are a fascinating exploration of a woman and the basic condition of aging with dignity.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art also has an exhibition of pictures of one woman by one artist.”Madame Cezanne” features a series of images by Paul Cezanne of his wife, Hortense Fiquet, his most painted model.

MadameCezanne_WebAssets_POSTER_1106142The show features 24 of Cezanne’s 29 portraits of Hortense, painted over a period of 20 years

In all of the portraits, Hortense is serious and mostly in the same pose. Instead of being a celebration of the woman, as in Motesiczky’s show, she is presented as an object to be explored over and over to develop the artist’s craft.

“Her expression in the painted portraits has been variously described as remote, inscrutable, dismissive, and even surly,” the museum release states. “And yet the portraits are at once alluring and confounding, recording a complex working dialogue ….”

Two paintings of Madame Cezanne in a red dress by Paul Cezanne

Two paintings of Madame Cezanne in a red dress by Paul Cezanne

A series of images of Madame Cezanne in the same red dress are fascinating. They are all the same in pose, but all different as Cezanne plays with style and technique. They offer a glimpse into the artist’s process.

The exhibition also includes three watercolors, 14 drawings, and three sketchbooks. It is in the sketchbooks that the formality eases as Cezanne whips off quick drawings of Hortense and their son Paul in domestic settings.

Probably the difference in the two exhibitions is that “Madame Cezanne” is a show about the artist. We are given little about the subject, except the stoic ability to sit still for a long, long time — she doesn’t even seem to be enjoying it. Motesiczky’s “Mother Paintings” are all about the subject.

Both are worth seeing for different reasons. As an artist, I value the insight into Cezanne’s work, but as an art lover, Motesiczky’s exhibition is the more powerful and affecting.

Review: ‘El Greco in New York’

El Greco "The Vision of St. John"

El Greco “The Vision of St. John”

Getting the chance to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is always a treat, and this fall a small show is particularly worth a visit.

El Greco in New York” features the work of Domenikos Theotokopoulos (I have learned his real name because, well, honestly, it’s just cool to say and throw out at random to be pretentious).

The show is very small, only some 20 or so pieces gathered from the Hispanic Society of America and the Met’s collection, but that doesn’t diminish the impact of the work.

El Greco "Self Portrait"

El Greco “Self Portrait”

“The Greek” (1541-1614) made his name in Toledo, Spain, following a stint in Italy, after leaving his home in Crete to seek fame and fortune. His work follows the standard religious themes of the period, but his style is unique to the period. Several of his portraits seem to have a blue filter — imagine the tonal quality of a movie like “Gone Girl,” for example. Add in the way he elongates his figures and the show makes a case that he is a precursor of modernism.

El Greco "View of Toledo"

El Greco “View of Toledo”

El Greco’s paintings have an ethereal quality that highlights the spirituality of the pieces, which probably developed from his training as an icon painter.

Four hundred years after his birth, El Greco is recognized as an influence on artists from Manet to Rothko, Cezanne to the German Expressionists.

“The Vision of St. John” is a great example of El Greco’s influence. The figures are elongated and and the flesh tones have a blue hue. The central grouping echoes Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” and it would be easy to convince that, with its stylized black shadows around the figures, it was the work of an expressionist.


The paintings feel contemporary. One can only imagine how radical his work must have seemed to late-16th century viewers.

The artist always signed with his real name, and the name of Domenikos Theotokopoulos stands tall among the greats of art history still.

“El Greco in New York” runs through Feb. 1.

Determining the ‘Value’ of Women in Art

Last week a Georgia O’Keefe, “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1,” sold for $44.

million, the highest price ever paid for a painting by a woman. While that is a hefty chunk of change, it is far below the prices paid for works by men.

Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 by Georgia O'Keefe

Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 by Georgia O’Keefe

In 2001, Paul Cezanne‘s “Card Players” sold for $259 million. A piece that is more contemporary with the O’Keefe, Jackson Pollock‘s “No. 5,” sold for $140 million in 2006.

In a recent blog for the Guardian, critic Jonathan Jones argues that paintings by men appeal to men, and as most critics are men, it stands to reason that male artists are more heavily promoted. He specifically cites Damien Hirst and Jackson Pollock among examples of “macho”painters he has championed.

There have been articles written in the past about why women artists are not as great (including theories about men’s and women’s brains being wired differently making it easier for men to be tap into their creativity — a theory that, while claiming to be rooted in science, is patently ridiculous).

There has to be some credibility to the argument that we live in a patriarchy where men are promoted at the expense of women. It is clear that women have traditionally been denied opportunity and respect.

But in our modern world, women are supposedly offered equal opportunity, yet it seems to still be the case that works by men are the most sought out and valued.

As someone who has always considered himself a feminist, I like to think I look at work on its own merit, regardless of gender. Yet as I think about the shows I am looking forward to seeing on my latest trip to New York — El Greco, Henri Matisse and Egon Schiele — they are all males.

Does this reflect a male bias on my part, responding to them more as a male? Or does it reflect the lack of opportunity to see a big show that focuses on a woman?

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago

I have seen solo retrospectives for Frida Kahlo, Cindy Sherman, Yoko Ono and O’Keefe. I have seen many shows where women played a prominent role in a group, but even then they were presented as supporting players. The Judy Chicago show at The Brooklyn Museum, where her classic “Dinner Party” is housed, was impressive, but was shown in the the Feminist Art wing which separated it into the category of “other.” And one of the best shows I have seen in the past couple of years was also in Brooklyn, featuring a magnificent installation “Submerged Motherlands” by Swoon.

Submerged Motherlands by Swoon

Submerged Motherlands by Swoon

But most of these have been one-offs, whereas I have seen at least six major overviews of Picasso, and almost as many of Matisse.

Of course, Matisse and Pablo Picasso are the two giants of the 20th century regardless of gender, so maybe that comparison is unfair.

It is a vicious cycle. The male artists are traditionally valued higher financially. People look at money as a signifier of what is “good.” Therefore, more people will show up to an exhibition that is “good,” excluding women from the opportunity.

So will there come a time when a woman artist reaches the value and respect of their male contemporaries? Or are they doomed to always be artistic second-class citizens.

I have no answers to these questions. I like to think that I am not drawn to the masculine (Pollock is not among my favorites and I actively dislike most of Hirst’s work). But is it possible to think outside one’s gender experiences? I’d like to think so.

Galerie St. Etienne has an exhibition by Marie-Louise Motesiczky titled “The Mother Paintings.” It’s not exactly billed as a blockbuster but it looks interesting. And that’s really the point.