Schiele began drawing as a child and in 1906, at the age of sixteen, attended the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. During these years, he was strongly influenced by Gustav Klimt and the Vienna Secession artists whose style emphasized flowing line and ornamentation. Schiele and Klimt had met in 1907 and Klimt was supportive of the young artist. He introduced Schiele to his own models and patrons, and helped him find work. He also included Schiele in the 1909 Internationale Kunstchau Exhibition of foreign and Austrian artists.
In 1909, Schiele became dissatisfied with the academy’s conservatism and formed the Neukünstler (New Artists) Group with other dropouts from the Academy. Free from the confines of the Academy’s conventions, Schiele began to explore the human form and human sexuality in his work. At the time, many found the explicitness of his works ugly and disturbing. Through 1913, Schiele created his best known works – drawings of female models, either nude or semi-nude in oddly foreshortened poses.
In 1915, Schiele married Edith Harms, was drafted into the military and assigned to various posts outside Vienna. Creating portraits of Edith, Schiele adapted a more naturalistic approach which he also used in the increasing number of portrait commissions he had begun to receive.
“Draughtsmanship played a significant role in Schiele’s art. Although he produced few original prints, he made numerous independent drawings, in which he used pencil or chalk, and occasionally charcoal or ink, to create a sharply defined outline that he then filled in with watercolour or gouache. Schiele was shy and introspective, but obsessive in the pursuit of his art and in his contemplation of mortality, which provoked the confessional and compassionate tone of his work.”
In 1918, Schiele was invited to show a large exhibition of his work at the Viennese Seccession. Just as he had begun to achieve commercial success, both Schiele and his wife contracted the Spanish flu. Edith, who was six months pregnant, died on October 28, 1918. Schiele died three days later on October 31, 1918 at the age of 28.
Though Schiele’s career was short, he was extremely prolific. He created over three hundred oil paintings and several thousand works on paper. His work has inspired the work of later artists, especially in Austria, making him a major figure in 20th-century art.