Thursday, May 20, 2010

Egon Schiele and Lucian Freud Paint a Paradox

Egon Schiele and Lucian Freud Paint a Paradox

Egon Schiele Female Nude 1910


Lucian Freud Naked Girl 1966


This paper will compare and contrast the German Expressionist piece, Female Nude of 1910, by Egon Schiele and the Postwar Europe piece, Naked Girl of 1966, by Lucian Freud. Both artist's painted many personal, evocative, and raw nudes. One could say that within each mans' body of work, each of their nudes have the same goal and purpose of investigation. Schiele's Female Nude and Freud's Naked Girl are great representations of their nude bodies of work. This paper will focus on those two particular works and how both pieces embody a paradox; both pieces carry contradictions within themselves and in comparison to each other. I will discuss the aesthetic paradoxes and the conceptual paradoxes.

The first piece, Egon Schiele's Female Nude of 1910, is one of at least seven other drawings of the same model done from a single sitting. Schiele uses gouache, watercolor, and black crayon with a very gestural line and minimal color to describe the figure. He has omitted the model's right arm, left forearm, and both legs just under the mid-thigh area. She is positioned off center and diagonally on the paper with her right thigh going off of the format, leaving a blank area around the right side, top, and bottom of the model. Her dark stockings mark the end of his depiction of her thighs. These stockings were probably blue black in reality, but Schiele has rendered them with dark, but vibrant, opaque strokes of blues and violets. These colors are also used to describe her scattered and radial hair, which falls all around her head and neck and ends behind her shoulders. The same violet tones are used in a much thinner fashion to describe the volumes of the body. Author Jane Kallir states that "brushstrokes score the flesh though thin veils of wash, and pools of paint accumulate at strategic junctures such as knuckles and other bony protrusions." Schiele also "emphasizes the contour of the figure in opaque white giving the body volume." The model is almost fully nude, with the exception of her dark stockings that reach to her mid-thigh. She is comfortably reclined back diagonally, with her left hand resting just below her left breast, and her right arm, in reality, leaning against something. Her head seems to be propped up and resting possibly on a pillow. Her eyelids are very heavy showing only a sliver of her eyes and the corners of her mouth are pointing upwards, giving her a sort of comfortable smirk. Because her pelvis is shifted upwards on her left side and downwards on the right, one might assume that her left leg is straight while her right leg is bent. This is also suggested by the width of her right thigh versus her left. The model seems to be very comfortable and confident in her nudity. There seems to be a passiveness to her, by virtue of her facial expression and body position. Schiele's diagonal point of view, where her bottom half is in the foreground and her upper half receding into space, and the slight parting of her legs, puts the model's vagina right in the viewer's face; though, Schiele describes this area only through the pubic hair.

The second piece, Lucian Freud's Naked Girl of 1966, is said to be the greatest of his female nudes done in the 1960s. Freud renders the model in oil on canvas using rather broad brush strokes with defined areas of light and shadow or "close-toned hues." The figure almost looks as though she is glowing from within. Her skin is very fleshy to the eye, with areas of light blue reflective light and areas of intense reddish-pink. Some areas, such as her belly seem to be milky and almost smooth, whereas others, such as the sheet, seem to be more textural with visible brush strokes. Freud has positioned her in the center of the square canvas, with her body reclining back into space; she is cropped just below the knees. She is fully nude lying atop an ocean of white jumbled sheets with a sliver of the dark room painted above her head. Her head is tilted to her right and her eyelids are heavy with a deep, but almost blank, gaze, going passed the viewer's left. Her lips are slightly parted and both of her arms are bent upwards. Her left hand is resting right atop her left breast and her right hand is resting on the sheets beside her head. Her body position looks like nothing special; it looks as though she just lied down and began to daydream. The models legs are closed together but her "pink fleshy sex" is squeezed in between her thighs and fully rendered.

Both pieces embody a paradox of when compared to each other and within each piece. A paradox occurs aesthetically and at the surface of both paintings. While Schiele uses a more preliminary means of depicting the figure through gesture on paper, Freud uses a more complete traditional means through oil on canvas. Yet one could say that through the very apparent brush strokes and blocks of color, that Freud's painting, although done very painstakingly, appears to be very loose and expressionistic; and that while Schiele's piece is done in a very gestural way, because of the bold and very confident lines that describe the body, it is a carefully thought out, intentional, and tight drawing. Schiele's colors are more representational than accurate, while Freud's use of color is much more realistic. Though, if the viewer were to compare the two pieces, he or she would note that they are very similar in color scheme. Schiele allows the peachy color of the paper to become the dominant skin tone color, adding in red violet and blue violet for shadows and variations in the skin and also a light blue for reflective light and places of emphasis. Even though Freud fully renders his model's skin tone, it becomes a similar color to that of Schiele's paper, and Freud also uses similar red violet, blue violet, and light blue hues for the same means as Schiele. Freud's hand leaves a much more realistic figure whereas Schiele's is more illustrative, yet both images convey a very real and raw figure. While Schiele does take more of an artistic license to slightly distort and stylize some of the anatomy of his model and Freud, for the most part, depicts a more correct image of his model, Freud does emphasize and skew parts of his model as well.

The paradox also occurs under the surface of these paintings, in a more conceptual way. Both artists seem to be painting for personal investigation, but while Schiele painted more in search of who he was, Freud painted the components of his interests that made up who he was. Author Helen Borowitz quotes critic Danielle Knafo as stating, "Schiele's [existence] was a lifelong journey in which he searched for his lost parents in himself and for his lost self in his art... He employed his art as a corrective emotional experience whereupon he repeatedly nurtured, and apparently repaired, a battered psyche. " In Schiele's Nude Female, one might see Knafo's words reflected. He did not spend a large amount of time perfecting one final piece, rather he completed many gestural investigations of the same model, possibly searching for what felt right. One might assume that the model's limbs play a vanishing act not simply because he did not feel like drawing them, but more likely because of personal and psychological reasons.

Freud is quoted as saying, "My work is purely autobiographical, it is about myself and my surroundings. It is an attempt at a record. I work from people that interest me, and that I care about and think about, in rooms that I live in and know." It is apparent that Freud's Naked Girl was produced under these personal circumstances by virtue of the simplistic bedroom setting and how completely naked yet completely passive and comfortable the model is about it all. So much so, that it is as though Freud is not even present in the room, and that she is totally alone in her own world. Freud renders her with so much tact and life that it is difficult to believe that this piece is in any way impersonal. Author Sebastian Smee comments on how Freud "wanted to set down very specific truths about what it is like to occupy this particular body, in this particular situation, over this particular period of time." Freud absolutely accomplishes these goals with Naked Girl.

Both pieces, within themselves, are contradicting. Schiele's piece, in one aspect, could be considered very salacious and sexual (especially for the time period in which it was produced), yet it conveys something other than erotica. It depicts a nude un-idealized emaciated woman with a protruding hip bone and shoulder bone, and one long boney hand resting below her awkward shaped breasts. Author Patrick Werkner states that "Schiele was constantly searching for the hidden, demonic, and unwholesome aspects in his subjects." So even though Schiele depicts a very open and comfortable female nude reclined back with her legs parted, it is not about the sex, it does not evoke eroticism; rather it embodies the personal investigation and "reveals the scars, the vulnerability, the dark sides that are concealed behind sleek personal fa├žades. Schiele saw the abyss that lies beneath seemingly innocuous appearances." He wasn't painting a sugar coated delicate and beautiful nude, as so many before him did; he was more interested in the real and the psychological. Werkner points out that, "his nudes were not just naked figures, they were the proponents of a reality; conductors of impressions extending beyond the confines of the pictures, the medium for a concrete idea, the conveyors of a vitality that wasn’t fictive, but instead actualized and made manifest."

In Freud's piece, "the girl's pose is at once self-protecting (legs together) and abandoned (her arms have fallen into place in the most natural, unselfconscious way)." While her most private of parts are totally exposed they are "not inviting in any salacious way- just there." So, although the girl is completely nude, completely naked and exposed, and lying on a bed, she is not evoking any eroticism. She just is what she is. Freud is quoted as saying "I paint people not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be."
There are many paradoxes in both Schile's Female Nude and Freud's Naked Girl when compared to one another and in the works themselves, both aesthetically and conceptually. Looseness, freshness, and realness play a huge role in both pieces aesthetically. Nakedness, rawness, and the psychology of both the model and the artist play a large role in both pieces conceptually, both pieces utilizing these qualities in their own unique and sometimes complex ways.

Borowitz, Helen. "Youth as a Metaphor and Image in Wedekind, Koschka, and Schiele." Art Jounral, vol. 33, no. 3 (Spring 1974)
Kallir, Jane. Egon Schiele: The Complete Works. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1990.
Schroder, Klaus. Egon Schiele. New York: Prestel, 1991.
Smee, Sebastian. Lucian Freud. Los Angeles: Taschen, 2007.
Werkner, Patrick. Egon Schiele: Art, Sexuality, and Viennese Modernism. Palo Alto: The Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship, Inc., 1994.

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