Lugano museum stages major Schiele exhibition

Schiele's art glorified the female form.

An ambitious exhibition in Lugano is devoted to the works and brief career of the Austrian artist, Egon Schiele.

This content was published on April 15, 2003 - 07:50

Born in 1890, Schiele died of Spanish influenza only 28 years later. But thanks to his 200 surviving paintings he is now regarded as having been one of the principal exponents of modern art.

Much of his work captures the social reality of the late 19th century. Culturally this was a rich period, developed under the Austro-Hungarian Empire at an historical moment between modernism and decadence, in a territory where different ethnic groups, languages and traditions coexisted.

Artistic range

The Lugano exhibition, in the city's modern art museum until June 29, is a complete panorama of his production through about 40 oils and as many sketches, watercolours and gouaches.

It includes his best-known paintings, but also gives wide space to works on paper in which Schiele's graphic skills emerge in portrayals of nudes.

At the age of 21, while living in a small town in Bohemia he had begun painting portraits of naked young women, some still in their teens, and shortly afterwards included some of the pictures in his first exhibition.

Brush with the law

They were considered daring in the moral climate of that time, and Schiele ran into trouble with the law.

Falsely accused of abducting a 14-year-old girl he served 24 days in prison, and although the charge was dropped, he was later convicted of having allowed minors to visit his studio, where erotic sketches were displayed on the walls.

During the trial one of the drawings was publicly burnt as a warning, prompting Schiele to move permanently to Vienna.

The exhibition layout, with a chronological sequence and rooms devoted to specific themes, traces the evolution of Schiele's art beginning with works produced during his three years as a student at the Vienna Fine Arts Academy.

These are characterised by landscapes and influenced by Impressionism and the art nouveau paintings of his friend and mentor in Vienna, Gustav Klimt.


This exhibition continues a tradition of major retrospectives in Lugano's modern art museum, the most recent four having been devoted to the works of Munch, Modigliani, Kirchner and Chagall. But organising it was no simple matter.

"It's not easy," says Erasmo Pelli, the city's deputy mayor with responsibility for culture, "at a time when contacts between museums, notably with American ones, are more and more complicated, insurance becoming more expensive and thus increasing the costs of exhibitions."

"The cost explosion is real," adds museum director Rudy Chiappini.

"But we are confronted with another big problem - the fact that we don't have a major permanent collection and therefore cannot enter into exchanges with many museums. For exhibitions such as this one, exchanges are vital."

swissinfo with agencies

Schiele summary

Egon Schiele was born in Tullin, a small town on the banks of the Danube in 1890.

He studied at the Vienna Fine Arts Academy, and came under the influence of his friend and mentor, Gustav Klimt.

The Lugano exhibition, in the city's modern art museum until June 29, is a complete panorama of Schiele's production, through oils to sketches.

It includes his best-known paintings and works on paper, in which Schiele's graphic skills emerge in portrayals of nudes.

Schiele died of spanish influenza in 1918 at the age of 28.

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