Egon Schiele was born in 1890 in the small Lower Austrian town of Tulln to a middle-class family of civil servants. He was raised alongside his two sisters, Melanie (1886–1974) and Gertrude (1894–1981).
Even as a young schoolboy, Schiele sketched prolifically. While attending high school in Klosterneuburg, the painter Max Kahrer became one of his first mentors and taught him various artistic techniques.
Due to Schiele’s poor academic performance, his mother decided to take him out of school early. His drawing skills eventually led him to pursue a career as an artist.
In October 1906, almost two years after his father’s death, Schiele passed the entrance exam for the Fine Arts Academy of Vienna, where he was taught by Christian Griepenkerl, a painter known for his renderings of historical events.
In 1909 Schiele participated in the Internationale Kunstschau (International Art Show), which featured a tribute to Gustav Klimt and where Oskar Kokoschka made his debut. At the time, Schiele’s work was still influenced by Klimt and the Viennese Jugendstil.
Openly rejecting the principles touted by his professor, Schiele teamed up with several classmates and other likeminded individuals to found the Neukunstgruppe (New Art Group) and dropped out of the academy in 1909. It was at the group’s first exhibition that Schiele met the influential art critic Arthur Roessler.
The shift toward Expressionism occurred in 1910. With his new Expressionist color palette, Schiele was rebelling against both naturalism and the dominant Viennese Jugendstil, and new motifs-erotic nudes, pregnant women and, above all, self-portraits-burst into his work with tremendous gusto.
In 1911 Schiele met Walburga “Wally” Neuzil, who remained his favorite model and companion until the artist married Edith Harms in 1915.
His artistic career was suddenly interrupted in April 1912, when he was jailed on charges of pedophilia and kidnapping. The accusations turned out to be groundless, but Schiele still had to spend 24 days behind bars, a traumatic experience that inspired his famous prison series.
In June 1915, one year after the outbreak of World War I, Schiele was stationed in Prague following a second draft. That same month he married Edith Harms, the daughter of a well-to-do family.
Starting in late 1915, his Expressionist art gradually gave way to a closer affinity with nature, which is particularly apparent in his increasingly realistic female nudes and portraits.
After Gustav Klimt’s sudden death at the beginning of 1918, Egon Schiele was widely regarded as his legitimate heir on the Viennese art scene.
Financial success came in March 1918 with the 49th Exhibition of the Vienna Secession: the artist received lucrative portrait commissions and the demand for his erotic nudes also rose.
A few days before the end of the war, on October 28, 1918, Schiele’s pregnant wife Edith was struck down by a devastating Spanish flu epidemic. Three days later, Egon Schiele died of the same disease.