The Austrian painter Egon Schiele entered the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in 1906 aged 16. Coming into contact with the avant-garde he exhibited at the second Kunstclmu of 1909. Schiele met Gustav Klimt, the pre-eminent Viennese painter 28 years his senior, whose works had aroused great controversy amongst academics, the public and the press. Klimt's large allegorical frieze for the Beethoven exhibition of 1902 had drawn accusations of pornography. Admiration was mutual and Klimt recognised the powers of draughtsmanship o the younger artist. But Schiele soon shook off his mentor's influence and went on to produce oil paintings, watercolours and drawings of great nervous intensity and an aggressive, linear energy, often erotic in content. Sexuality was a theme pervading much of radical Viennese thought and art at this tim< — for example, the works of Sigmund Freud, Otto Weininger and Klimt. Schiele's studies of nude girls and his own body are no exception. They are explicit but at the same time tortured images of humanity, a fact that led people to label his work "Expressionist". These works scandalised the bourgeoisie by their overt eroticism and for a period in I9I2, he was actually imprisoned for disseminating indecent drawings and for the alleged abduction of a minor.
Veteran West German director, Herbert Vesely, brings a cool elegance to the tragic story, much revealed in flashback, of the artist in conflict with an uncomprehending public. Incriminated by the lies of a i 5-year-old model, Schiele is unable to stem the relentless judicial process. Hypocrisy and mendacity bear down on him excruciatingly. In court Schiele argues that his works are in the best tradition of erotic art; in the same court he is publicly humiliated by the physical destruction of one of the offending paintings. Like his contemporary and compatriot, Oskar Kokoshka. Schiele was a fmtvist whose works continue to astonish.
There is opportunity to see much of the artist's work in this well photographed film and Vesely creates a fine sense of end-of-empire decadence. Having survived prison and the years of war, Schiele died in the notorious influenza epidemic of 1918. aged 28 years — the year that also claimed Otto Wagner and Gustav Klimt and saw the collapse of the old world of Austria-Hungary.