Gagosian Quarterly

October 14, 2014

jenny savilleEGON SCHIELE

Egon Schiele was an Austrian figurative painter who died in 1918 at the age of 28. Jenny Saville is a contemporary British painter born half a century after his death. But when the Kunsthaus museum in Zürich paired their works next to each other in a show that opened this month, the resulting dialogue provided a fascinating look at figurative painting. Lauren Mahony previews the exhibition.

Jenny Saville, Ruben’s Flap, 1999, oil on canvas, 120 × 96 inches (304.8 × 243.8 cm), George Economou Collection © Jenny Saville

Jenny Saville, Rubens Flap, 1999, oil on canvas, 120 × 96 inches (304.8 × 243.8 cm), George Economou Collection © Jenny Saville

Lauren Mahony

Lauren Mahony organizes special exhibitions for Gagosian. She joined Gagosian in 2012 after seven years in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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“[Schiele] isolated his figures—there was no context to disrupt your vision, just the human body in its fundamental condition…I must have been very influenced by him as a teenager. He used a low-to-high perspective with the figure, worked with mirrors, was prepared to expose himself in his work.”—Jenny Saville, 2014

This autumn the Kunsthaus Zürich presents an exhibition pairing two artists working a century apart: the Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele (1890–1918) and the contemporary British painter Jenny Saville (born 1970). The exhibition, organized thematically and including important rarely loaned works by both artists, plus a new painting by Saville, will illuminate aspects of each artist’s work that might otherwise go unnoticed outside of this context. It promises to be an essential exhibition of the season.

Both Schiele and Saville are best known for their expressive, personal, and often extreme depictions of the human form, and especially for their self-portraits. Schiele, whose oeuvre spans just ten years, cut short by his death from influenza at twenty-eight, made more than 250 self-portraits in that brief period, “more than any artists since Rembrandt.” Saville has habitually included her likeness in her paintings, either shown alone, sometimes reiterated multiple times, or alongside other figures. Both artists used mirrors and photography in creating their portraits and self-portraits. Schiele famously traveled everywhere with a full-length mirror that once belonged to his mother, and Saville also uses full-length mirrors, as well as photographs (the latter to “hold the image down,” in her words), to aid in the lengthy process of painting her fragmented and layered figures.

Egon Schiele—Jenny Saville

Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Splayed Fingers, 1911, 20 ½ × 11 inches (52.5 × 28 cm), Leopold Museum, Vienna

Egon Schiele—Jenny Saville

Egon Schiele, Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant, 1912, oil and gouache on wood, 11 ¾ × 15 ¾ inches (32.2 × 39.8 cm), Leopold Museum, Vienna

Though the artists’ works are done on very different scales, the resulting images are united in their intimacy and impact. The portraits are provocative and frank, and are also linked by their expressionistic depictions of flesh and skin. In his Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant (1912), Schiele uses a widely varied palette of colors for his face, ear, and neck, while the remaining elements of the composition are treated flatly and monochromatically. In Rosetta 2 (2005–06), Saville renders her model’s face in broad strokes of beige, white, ochre, and black, with the aquamarine that corresponds to her glazed eyes and unspecific surroundings.

Schiele is represented in the exhibition by thirty-eight paintings and forty works on paper. In addition to his portraits and nudes, the exhibition features several landscapes, cityscapes, and still lifes. Their stacked, horizontal compositions offer unexpected connections to the precariously balanced reclining figures and intertwined flesh of Saville’s Fulcrum (1999), for example.

Egon Schiele—Jenny Saville

Jenny Saville, Fulcrum, 1999, oil on canvas, 103 × 192 inches (261.6 × 487.7 cm). Photo by Rob McKeever. © Jenny Saville

Egon Schiele—Jenny Saville

Egon Schiele, Reclining Woman, 1917, oil on canvas, 38 × 67 ¼ inches (96 × 171 cm). Museum Leopold, Vienna

Saville is represented by seventeen paintings and a number of drawings that span her career thus far, including several monumental paintings, such as Fulcrum and Ruben’s Flap (1999), first exhibited in her landmark 1999 solo exhibition at Gagosian’s former Wooster Street gallery in New York. Her enormous, evocative figures are often discussed in connection with two of her British predecessors, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, as well as the American Abstract Expressionist Willem de Kooning. And indeed all three artists had an enormous impact on Saville’s development as a figural painter. Less explicit—and what makes this exhibition unexpected and intriguing—are the themes and stylistic concerns she also shares with Schiele, a painter of an earlier generation, and their overlapping interest in conveying the emotional and psychological realism of their subjects in their own unique painterly vocabulary.

The large-format exhibition catalogue features new scholarship on each artist separately and in the context of the other’s work, with an introduction by the exhibition curator, Oliver Wick, and texts by Oskar Bätschmann, Maria Becker, Martin Harrison, Diethard Leopold, Helena Pereña, and Franz Smola. It will be published in German and English.

Egon Schiele—Jenny Saville is on view at the Kunsthaus Zürich, Switzerland, October 10, 2014–January 25, 2015

Jenny Saville, Study for Pentimenti I, 2011, graphite and pastel on paper.

Five Preoccupations: Jenny Saville

Jenny Saville shares a selection of the books, films, and more that have been her companions in the quiet of the shutdowns in recent months and as she looks ahead to a new exhibition next year.

Jenny Saville in her studio.

In Conversation
Jenny Saville and Nicholas Cullinan

Jenny Saville speaks with Nicholas Cullinan, the director of the National Portrait Gallery, London, from her studio. They discuss portraiture, her latest work, and her art historical influences, as well as the shifting nature of perception in the age of digital communication.

Left: Sally Mann, Self-Portrait, 1974; right: Jenny Saville in her studio, c. 1990s.

In Conversation
Sally Mann and Jenny Saville

The two artists discuss being drawn to difficult subjects, the effects of motherhood on their practice, embracing chance, and their shared adoration of Cy Twombly.

Still from video Visions of the Self: Jenny Saville on Rembrandt

Visions of the Self: Jenny Saville on Rembrandt

Jenny Saville reveals the process behind her new self-portrait, painted in response to Rembrandt’s masterpiece Self-Portrait with Two Circles.

Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2019

Now available
Gagosian Quarterly Spring 2019

The Spring 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring Red Pot with Lute Player #2 by Jonas Wood on its cover.

Jenny Saville: Ancestors

Jenny Saville: Ancestors

In this video, Jenny Saville speaks about Ancestors and her new works currently on view at Gagosian, West 21st Street, New York.

Jenny Saville and Dr. Simon Groom

In Conversation
Jenny Saville and Dr. Simon Groom

Jenny Saville discusses the beginnings and evolutions of her painting practice with Dr. Simon Groom, Director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. She speaks candidly on her endless passion for painting the figure, the beauty of struggle, motherhood, and the artists that have inspired her.

Jenny Saville on Willem de Kooning

Jenny Saville on Willem de Kooning

In 2013, the exhibition Willem de Kooning: Ten Paintings, 1983–1985 explored the legendary artist’s late work. For the catalogue accompanying the presentation, Jenny Saville spoke on the gestures and elemental elegance of these paintings.



Diana Widmaier Picasso, curator of the exhibition Desire, reflects on the history of eroticism in art.

Jenny Saville: Erota

Jenny Saville: Erota

Richard Calvocoressi discusses the inspiration behind the artist’s new body of work.

Andy Warhol cover design for the magazine Aspen 1, no. 3.

Artists’ Magazines

Gwen Allen recounts her discovery of cutting-edge artists’ magazines from the 1960s and 1970s and explores the roots and implications of these singular publications.

Josh Kline, Skittles, 2014, commercial fridge, light box, and blended liquids in bottles, 86 ½ × 127 ½ × 41 inches (219.7 × 323.9 × 104.1 cm) © Josh Kline. Photo:  © Timothy Schenck

Laws of Motion

Catalyzed by Laws of Motion—a group exhibition, curated by Sam Orlofsky, pairing artworks from the 1980s on by Jeff Koons, Cady Noland, Rosemarie Trockel, and Jeff Wall with contemporary sculptures by Josh Kline and Anicka Yi—Wyatt Allgeier discusses the convergences and divergences in these artists’ practices with an eye to the economic worlds from which they spring.