If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Schiele, Seated Male Nude (Self-Portrait)

Egon Schiele, Seated Male Nude (Self-Portrait), 1910, oil and gouache on canvas, 152.5 × 150 cm (Leopold Museum, Vienna). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

(lighthearted music) Male Voiceover: Auguste Rodin had been, perhaps, the first person to willfully distort, destroy the human body, which for thousands of years, had been something to represent fully and completely and reverentially; but, to do that in sculpture, meant to refer to the ancient Greek sculptures and their fragments. Egon Schiele, in 1910, does it in paint. Female Voiceover: It's a remarkably radical image. We're looking at the Seated Male Nude, a self-portrait by Egon Schiele, from 1910, in the Loepold Museum. Schiele's only 20 when he paints this. It's a really large square canvas, and he presents this figure, himself, his body with his feet cut off, and his hands tightly wound, stretched across diagonally on this empty white background. Male Voiceover: The hands are so wound, as you said, that you can't actually see them; so, he is simply his head, his torso, his limbs, without the parts of the body that we grasp the world with. He is literally floating unmoored. Female Voiceover: The expressiveness of the body reminds me of Michelangelo, the way that Michelangelo used the body to express emotion. Male Voiceover: Instead of the musculature, the heroism, the way that Michelangelo would imbue a body with divinity through its power, here we have a body that is virtually emaciated, that has been attenuated so that is almost will stretch and break. There is a delicacy and a sensitivity here. Look, for instance, at the hair on the legs, what they can, almost like the tendrils of an undersea creature, feel the slightest wind, feel the slightest pulse. There is a intensified perception that exists here. It's, in part, because the eyes are red, the nipples are red, the genitals are red, the navel is red. All that also speaks to a kind of interior intensity, so this is sexualized, it's violent, and he also seemed to be nothing but a physical shell that somehow is at odds with the intensity and the power of the emotional being within. Female Voiceover: It's amazing to me, the way that Schiele took himself so seriously as a subject for art. If you think about art history, its subjects are religion, the aristocracy, princes, kings; and here, at this moment at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, this portrayal of subjectivity, of this focus on the self, of expressing the self and using radical, formal means. Male Voiceover: The problem, then, that Schiele seems to have set for himself is, "How can I convey visually the external body as a means to understand the interior self?" (lighthearted music)