Egon Schiele @ Courtauld

Sometimes in life, we expect to love something and then realise that we hate it. Of course the reverse is also possible. However, it is with the original statement in mind that I come to write about the Egon Schiele exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery.

I personally feel uncomfortable writing negative reviews on my blog. However, not everything in this world is covered with smiles so just this once I am going to give my honest opinion on an exhibition that I did not enjoy at all. The show which is titled ‘The Radical Nude’ comprises of 38 drawings and watercolours of nude figures that are contorted into a number of strange positions. The first of two rooms ‘eases’ the viewer in with some of the artist’s early images from 1910, beginning with his own self-portraits. By the time the viewer has made the way round the room, the subject moves from himself, to his sister, the thought of which made me a little uncomfortable, as well as nude depictions of a baby in a medical clinic.

However, if the thought of an artist depicting his sister or young children in the nude makes you apprehensive, then the second room is probably best avoided altogether. This room is more overtly sexual, with Schiele seeming to put a considerable focus on female genitalia. In some paintings, Schiele’s models are lifting up their skirts or sitting in a suggestive way so that the artist can focus and thus expose this part of the female anatomy. In his review for The Guardian, Jonathan Jones has stated that Schiele was ‘a feminist ahead of his time.’ I’m not sure however, if his artwork celebrates or objectifies women. Nevertheless, I can see how his unidealised, ‘real’ women, might appeal to modern feminism.

Besides all of the sexualised female flesh on display, there were a handful of male nudes in the gallery. Notably, none of which were sexualised at all. Out of these, a pair of images depicting a mime artist caught my attention, where despite the figure – which has been cropped below the waist – being depicted in the nude, all of the attention is drawn into the face. These watercolours are also deeply expressive in the positioning and elongating of the limbs, giving a very different message Schiele’s female nudes.

I have no doubt that many people will love this exhibition, and it will certainly create discussion. It is definitely a show to divide the crowd but worth seeing, nevertheless.

Egon Schiele: Radical Nude is on display at Courtauld Gallery until Jan 18

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Lizzy Vartanian Collier aka Gallery Girl is a writer and curator based in London. Her work has been featured in publications including Dazed, Hyperallergic and Vogue Arabia. She was curator of Perpetual Movement during AWAN Festival 2018 and in 2019 had a residency at the Lab at Darat Al Funun in Amman, Jordan. She has also worked with Armenia Art Fair for its inaugural edition and previously worked as an editor at I.B.Tauris Publishers. In 2019 she co-founded Arsheef, Yemen’s first contemporary art gallery. She has given workshops at Manara Culture in Amman, Jordan and Victoria and Albert Museum in London, UK. As of 2020 she is currently in law school, with the ambition of greater understanding the intersection between art and the law.

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