One messed-up dude

But Egon Schiele certainly could paint a lovely boat.

Segelschiffe im wellenbewegtem Wasser (Der Hafen von Triest), 1907, Egon Schiele, private collection
I have a hard time loving the work of Egon Schiele. Erotic paintings, emaciated figures, and anguished self-portraits leave me cold. I far prefer the Expressionism of Käthe Kollwitz and Gabriele Münter. They weren’t happy, either, but at least they had something real to complain about.
Then my friend Bruce McMillan introduced me to Schiele’s boat paintings. They don’t quite make up for all those tortured people, but they’re beautifully drawn and kinetic. Interestingly, the highest auction prices for Schiele’s work are not for his erotica, but for his landscapes, including the record-setting Häuser mit bunter Wäsche ‘Vorstadt’ II, which sold for $40.1 million in 2011.
Boote im Hafen von Triest, 1908, Egon Schiele, courtesy Landesmuseum Niederösterreich
There’s no question that Schiele was a prodigy. At 16, he was the youngest student ever to enroll at Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts. After three years, he quit without graduating. In school and after, he was mentored by Gustav Klimt, who did much to advance his career.
“Klimt was an established star and Schiele a cocksure student when the two first met in 1908,” wroteLaura Cumming. “But it is immediately obvious… that their obsessions were already mutual.”
Klimt had innumerable affairs and fathered 14 children out of wedlock. But he was staid compared to his protégée, who was completely amoral in matters of sexuality. Schiele was incestuously attracted to his sister Gerti, to the great consternation of their father (who went on to die of syphilis himself). At age 16, Schiele took Gerti, then 12, by train to Trieste and spent the night with her. 
At 21, he met Walburga (Wally) Neuzil, age 17, one of Klimt’s models. Aspiring to leave ‘repressive’ Vienna behind, the couple moved to a small Bohemian village. Driven out due to their lifestyle, they moved to slightly-larger Neulengbach. There, Schiele was accused of seducing a young girl and making pornographic images available to children. Although the rape charge was eventually dropped, he spent a month in jail for the pictures.
Dampfer und Segelboote im Hafen von Triest, watercolor, pencil and gouache on Japan paper, 1912, Egon Schiele
Back in Vienna, he wrote a friend, “I intend to get married, advantageously. Not to Wally.” Instead, he’d picked out Edith Harms, from a good middle-class family. As a former prostitute and artist’s model, Wally was a professional liability. Schiele proposed that he and Wally continue their relationship, vacationing together every summer without Edith. Wally indignantly refused.
Four days after the wedding, Egon Schiele was drafted into the army. He was given a job as a clerk in a POW camp. There, he drew and painted imprisoned Russian officers, nicking extra rations for himself and Edith on the side.
Die Brücke, 1913, Egon Schiele, private collection
By 1917, Schiele was back in Vienna. He was invited to participate in the Vienna Secession’s 49th exhibition in 1918, with a prodigious 50 works in the show. His success was spectacular. Demand—and prices—for Schiele’s work rose rapidly.
It was, alas, a short-lived triumph. In autumn of that year, Spanish flu pandemicreached Vienna. Edith and their unborn child died on October 28. Schiele lived just three days more. He was just 28.
It’s tempting to wonder what marriage, parenthood, and maturity would have done to temper the wild excesses of his youth, or how it would have changed his style. But, had he lived to ripe old age, Schiele would have also experienced the annexation of Austria by the Nazis twenty years later. It’s hard to imagine he would have prospered.


If you can ignore human suffering to hold on to something that isn’t yours, you don’t deserve the label (or the tax status) of a philanthropic organization.
l’Acteur, 1904-05, Pablo Picasso, courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Nazis seized an estimated 650,000 works of art between 1933 and 1945. There are well over 100,000 items that have not been returned to their rightful owners. Tens of thousands of these works ended up in public collections in the United States.
In 1998, 44 nations created the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, spearheaded by our own State Department. It called for a “just and fair solution” if heirs came forward to reclaim their family’s legacy. Museums also pledged to thoroughly research their acquisitions.
That was twenty years ago. In the meantime, many of our museums have stalled for time, using the classic American defense—the courts—to avoid compliance.
Artillerymen, 1915, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, courtesy Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
“Prominent U.S. museums have evaded the restitution of Holocaust-era stolen art to rightful owners and heirs by refusing to resolve claims on their facts and merits and by asserting technical defenses, such as statutes of limitations,” the World Jewish Restitution Organization reportedin 2015.
The city with the highest Jewish population in the world is not Jerusalem, but New York, where 1.5 million Jews make their home. Most are the descendants of Jews who escaped persecution in Europe in the 19th and 20th century. Many are enthusiastic supporters of the arts. Sysco co-founder Herbert Irving and his wife Florence are one example among many. Last year their foundation gave the Metropolitan Museum a cool $80 million.
In February of this year, the heirs of Paul Leffmann lost their suit against the Met for the return of Pablo Picasso’s L’acteur. Leffmann sold it under duress for $13,200 when his family fled Cologne in 1938. It is now worth an estimated $100 million.
“The Leffmanns would not have disposed of this seminal work at that time, but for the Nazi and fascist persecution to which they had been, and without doubt would continue to be, subjected,” argued their lawyers. The case is now being appealed.
In October, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation announcedit would return Artillerymen by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner to the heirs of its original owner. Kirchner, a founding member of Die Brücke, was a seminal figure in Expressionism. He too was a victim of Nazi Germany. Branded a “degenerate,” he ultimately took his own life, but not before he lived to see his entire ouevre confiscated.
The Guggenheim spent two years doing the right thing. They discovered that the painting’s initial attribution was a fabrication. It had in fact been owned by art dealer Alfred Flechtheim, who fled Berlin in 1933. It passed to Flechtheim’s niece, Rosi Hulisch. She committed suicide before she was to be shipped to a concentration camp in 1938.
It was then acquired by Dr. Kurt Feldhäusser. After he died in 1945, his mother sent his art collection to New York to be sold. Artillerymen was purchased by MoMA and then traded to the Guggenheim.
Portrait of Tilla Durieux, 1914, Auguste Renoir, courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan hasn’t been nearly as obliging. Among its treasures is the Portrait of Tilla Durieux, painted by an elderly Auguste Renoir. The sitter, a famous actress, took the painting with her when she and her husband fled Berlin in 1933. She survived; he died in Sachsenhausenin 1943. Their heirs claim that the couple sold the painting under duress in 1935 as they scrambled to find a way to leave Europe.
According to the New York Post, the Neue Galerie, Morgan Library and MoMA all hold looted works by Egon Schiele. These were part of a personal collection belonging to Austrian Jewish cabaret artist Fritz Grünbaum. Grünbaum owned more than 400 pieces, including eighty by Schiele. A quarter of the collection appeared on the art market in the early 1950s through Swiss art dealer Eberhard W. Kornfeld. The whereabouts of the rest are unknown.
Grünbaum died at Dachau in 1941. His wife, Elisabeth, was forced to surrender the family’s art collection to the Nazis before her transfer to a death camp in 1942.
If you can ignore that kind of suffering to hold on to something that isn’t yours, you don’t deserve the label (or the tax status) of a philanthropic organization.

How not to buy art

I went on ebay this morning and found you some great masters. Here, a Joan Miró for $75… or was it $90?… dollars. The only difference in buying this from a gallery is the bland assurance of the gallerista that it is genuine. And when you get it back to your brokerage office in Des Moines, it will hardly matter.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article called “How to Buy Warhol, Degas and Renoir on the Cheap.” I hope they were using Sarcastic Font, because it should be read as a story of how to get suckered.
What are people buying when they purchase a smudgy scrap of paper or a print overrun from the hand of a master? Not art, for sure, but bragging rights. And they’re not even particularly good bragging rights. Experts can’t agree about the authenticity of paintings that, if accepted into the artist’s oeuvre, could be worth tens of millions of dollars. Does anyone believe they apply the same level of scholarship to a painter’s grocery list?
And here, a genuine Pablo Picasso. You can tell he really did it because of the bull.
There was a time when it seemed like every gallery in New York had a Joan Miró print for sale at a knockdown price. And yet they were anodyne, unmemorable, and their only selling point was that the collector could say they had a ‘name’ work in their collection.
I once sold a Leonard Baskin print on ebay. I needed the money more than I needed the print. Someone got a far better deal than had he or she bought one of those Mirós. But that buyer knew art and knew the market.
And who would try to forge an Egon Schiele anyway? Just everyone, that’s who.
The buyer who loves art but doesn’t know anything about it should try to learn something about it under the tutelage of good advisors. He shouldn’t be buying putative Old Masters; he should be buying new works that have room to appreciate. And if he isn’t willing to put even that much work into it, he should stick to collecting old LPs and band posters.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops!