When most folks think of Austrian art, they imagine the epic paintings of Gustav Klimt. Admittedly, the opportunity to see original Klimt masterpieces is what drew me to Vienna’s Leopold Museum in the first place. While I loved my close-up inspection of Klimt’s “Death and Life,” I left the museum with a feeling of accomplishment: I had discovered a new artist.
Well, new to me, at least. Painter Egon Schiele, who died at the age of 28 in 1918, is a household name in Austria. And Leopold Museum in Vienna’s hip MuseumsQuartier just happens to possess the world’s largest Egon Schiele collection (thanks to museum founder Rudolf Leopold, who painstakingly collected Schiele’s work for 60 years). London’s “The Times” newspaper even called Leopold Museum one of the world’s most important galleries due to its Schiele collection and how it’s presented.
The joy of stumbling upon a collection as rich as Leopold’s Schiele paintings is similar to the feeling of accidentally happening upon an amazing novel. Over the course of several rooms — and a timeline of relevant autobiographical data that runs through the exhibit — the life of Schiele and his career as an artist is told and illustrated. Unlike the usual offering of only one or two paintings of an artist per exhibit, Leopold is able to immerse visitors in a special Schiele experience. Visitors can see how the painter began his career painting in the style of Klimt and how he quickly discovers his own unique styles, one expressive painting at a time. Among the 42-painting collection are haunting portraits, self-portraits, nudes and landscapes.
For the few hours I had in Schiele’s immortal company, I was inspired by all he managed to accomplish. This is a man who didn’t wait around. He dived deeply inward and, in his later works, outward, to share stories of the soul.