Galerie St. Etienne
24 West 57th St. between Fifth & Sixth Aves.
Through March 9, free
The centennial remembrance of the death of Austrian artist Egon Schiele at the age of twenty-eight in 1918 has featured special exhibitions around the world. One of the most stirring is “Egon Schiele: In Search of the Perfect Line,” which has been extended at Galerie St. Etienne through March 9. The Midtown gallery has been the longtime home of Schiele’s work, having hosted his first American one-man show in 1941. The current exhibit focuses on his extraordinary drawing skill, featuring portraits, nudes, landscapes, and nature scenes. “Egon Schiele ranks among the greatest draughtsmen of all times,” gallery owner Jane Kallir writes in her extensive exhibition essay. “Schiele’s works on paper stand on their own as complete artistic statements. Drawing almost daily, he used the medium to record his fluctuating responses to the basic problems of human existence: sexual desire, personal identity, the tenuousness of life, and the inevitability of death. Over the course of his brief career, Schiele’s drawing style changed frequently — sometimes several times in a single year. He was constantly searching for the perfect line: that split-second of transcendent clarity, when inner emotions and outward appearances become one.” Even the most ardent Schiele fans are likely to be surprised by the range of the drawings. While the 1912 Self-Portrait with Brown Background is classic Schiele, the artist looking strangely at the viewer, a 1906 self-portrait depicts Schiele as a well-dressed schoolboy deep in thought, facing off to the side, his left hand against his chin, a pencil in his right hand.
In On the Beach, a well-to-do couple stand happily on a boardwalk, the work bathed in blue and orange. The watercolor and pencil Newborn Baby almost floats off the tan wove paper, a startling contrast to Baby, where you can follow Schiele’s exquisite line. In Seated Girl with Bent Head, the subject is hunched over in the center, packed with emotion even though her face is not visible. Be sure to linger over City Houses (Krumau Ringplatz), Little Tree (Chestnut Tree at Lake Constance), Work Shed in Hilly Terrain, and Two Houses (Suburb of Vienna), which offer unexpected pleasures. And then follow the chaos of the line in Woman with Blonde Hair and Blue Garment. “Schiele’s premature death leaves hanging the tantalizing question: What would have happened next?” Kallir writes. “His oeuvre, comprising roughly 3,000 works on paper and over 300 paintings, may be interpreted as a visual coming-of-age story. Marked by the indelible stamp of youth, his work follows the path toward maturity and records faithfully the growing wisdom of adulthood. . . . In the best of his last works, Schiele had finally found the perfect line.”