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Video transcript

we're in the Leopold museum in Vienna and we're looking at Egon Schiele as the hermit's it's a large almost perfectly square canvas the states from 1912 when she was only 22 he was an incredibly precocious painting I would say so it's a really bleak image you have two figures that are so closely entwined they almost seem to have merged they're on this barest reference of a ground and then in back of them is a kind of fractured atmosphere that almost reminds you of a stained glass window it's hard to call it an atmosphere because it's mostly golds and browns it almost evokes medieval altarpiece and from that ground that you just refer to sprouts to wilted very small flowers right next to the artists signature well that signature is interesting the artist has scratched his name in not once but three times suggesting that there are almost three offers to this painting we're not sure about the identity of the two figures nor are we even sure that they're meant to be specific figures the figure on the left does look like Sheela in the way that we often see him posing in photographs and some art historians have suggested the figure for the right the older bearded figure might be Gustav Klimt but for me it's a very christ-like figure or very much of a kind of father figure the bearded figure doesn't really have eyes so there's a way in which he looks skull-like to me and perhaps dead or sleeping and the eyes of the other figure are so prominent and alert you know there's a long tradition of painting the blind as seers as people who actually have a kind of extraordinary vision a kind of inner vision that's right this paintings certainly meant not to be naturalistic but to rather be a kind of poetic representation of an inner vision or a summing up of Sheila's experiences in fact that's how he described it in a letter there is a sense that he is fracturing the visual world not only is the atmosphere fracture the figures feel fractured it's interesting that there are two heads only two hands and one foot and that foot is really planted in the ground or what seems to be a ground and so it seems like a root from which these two figures emerge it's true she was really calling attention to the materiality of the paint there's a real sense of the activity of the artist here it's true there culminates in a kind of education and it becomes almost a kind of psychic state what we see in the early 20th century is this interest in Expressionism right and interest in representing those inner states and experiences and interest in anxiety and tension you know it's so interesting because here we are looking at this Austrian artist this member of the Austrian avant-garde in the early 20th century in this moment of deep anxiety but one who's going back to the Byzantine tradition in some ways you had begun by saying look at the way in which the background almost functions as a gold field it reminds me of Byzantine icons and the way in which those medieval paintings were attempts to deal with anxiety and fear in a sense that being brought here to the modern world to our own modern anxieties the title is Hermits and so these are religious figures who've retreated into the desert or into the wilderness into some kind of private space for meditation and so there is a joining of the religious and the psychic here but in the early 20th century for the group of hours that Sheila was working with the idea of the religious could be a cultural religion or the artist as prophet in the modern era