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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 recently worked on Painting Paintings (David Reed) 1975. 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, Switerland. October 10, 2014–January 25, 2015

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