Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Einzelne Häuser (Häuser mit Bergen) (recto); Mönch I (fragment; verso),
The origins for this work can be traced back to 1911, when Schiele had sought a break from Vienna and moved to the small medieval town of Krumau on the Moldau River, in south Bohemia. Krumau was the birthplace of his mother, and Schiele knew it well. The stay was far from successful, however: the inhabitants took issue with the fact that Schiele lived ‘in sin’ with his lover, Walburga ‘Wally’ Neuzil, with his failure to attend church, and with his fondness for using local girls as naked models. Before long, Schiele and Wally moved on.
Ever since first painting the dark, empty medieval streets of Krumau in 1911 — a series of pictures he entitled ‘Dead Cities’ — Schiele had tended to anthropomorphise scenes from the world around him, particularly when depicting villages or houses. Trees and buildings, for instance, often served, like the bodies of Schiele’s sitters, to project a distinct psychology or mood — usually one of melancholy and decay.
Einzelne Häuser (Häuser mit Bergen) is possibly based on a house Schiele knew in Krumau or some other similar town on the Danube; the title in English means ‘Individual Houses (Houses with Mountains)’. In the crooked and weather-beaten forms of the dwellings, Schiele saw something distinctly human being expressed — a unique personality or character.
‘Everything in Schiele always comes back to human presence,’ confirms Jay Vincze, Head of Impressionist and Modern Art at Christie’s. ‘And when there aren’t people in the scene, as in this case, he anthropomorphises. Here it’s the houses that take on human form — and not a terribly healthy form at that. The precarious houses are probably a reflection on the world at large at that time.’