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More Egon Schiele

egon_schiele_wilted_sunflowers painting 1914

1914 – on the eve of war

Following on from the last post, I’m now enjoying a weissbier and melange (white coffee) after sausages and sauerkraut in the central square of Tulln. It turned out the railway station was actually Schiele’s birthplace – his father was station master and Egon was born in the apartment that came with the job on the first floor. His earliest subjects as a budding artist of 6 or 7 were the trains.

On leaving the station up the cobbled lane you start to come across notices on the ground marked: Egon Schiele Weg (ES Way). This is in marked contrast to my 1984 visit to Neulengbach (where Schiele kept a studio in his key years with his lover Wally (Walburga Neuzil) and where his guardian had a summer house). On arrival I asked a man in the main street if he knew where Schiele’s studio was. He told me urgently that you can’t talk about that round here and hussled me off to a nearby bar. He bought me a white wine before launching into an apology (in the original sense – explanation) for Austria’s role in WW2 – they were poor being the crux of it. I failed to find the studio which I knew had been in a small country lane. I may try again tomorrow.

Following the Weg I came across a junior school named after Schiele in 2015 on the 125 anniversary of the birth of who is now recognised as ‘the most famous son’ of Tulln. Quite a turnaround since his still underground status in the 80s.

By the Danube is a small museum dedicated to Schiele’s early years which was established in 1990, on his centenary, just over 5 years after my scholarship visit. None of the paintings I saw there today in the Frühe Gemälde (Early Paintings) exhibition betray his genius or originality except one. He was only 17/18, not yet finding his voice, but a painting of sunflowers (a field of which I saw from the train at Klosterneuburg where Schiele went to secondary school and first exhibited (in the monastery)) showed the advent of a design sensibility which shaped his future work.

1908-sunflower-egon-schiele painting

1908 – on the eve of adulthood (aged 18)

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Triple Coincidence No. 416 – Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele painting Sitting Woman with Legs Drawn Up, 1917

The picture on our bedroom wall – Schiele’s wife, Edith (1917)

I’m in Vienna for the first time in over 30 years for Doc Campus documentary workshop at ORF (Austrian TV). The last time I was here was on a scholarship from Girton College, Cambridge for research on the Austrian painter Egon Schiele.

I’d first heard about Schiele in a radio interview of David Bowie. At the time (mid-late 70s) Schiele was not well known outside of the Euro art cognoscenti. His description caught my imagination and I became a teen devotee, having always favoured a graphic approach to figurative art. At school I used to deliver drawings of, say, a glass of water that looked more like cut diamond.

So today I decided to go on a Schiele pilgrimage either to the site of his studio (Neulengbach, just outside of Vienna, where I had a memorable visit in around 1984) or his birthplace (Tulln). I’m writing this on an S-bahn to Tulln.

As I was reading Schiele stuff online this morning in my pension room near Schwedenplatz I noticed for the first time ever that he shares a birthday with my wife. (Along with Anne Frank and Robert Elms.) There is a reproduction of a painting by Schiele in the corner of our bedroom which my wife bought me years ago: it is inscribed “thanks for always bringing pictures”.

I left the room to go to the hotel for the workshop. As the taxi ride dragged on I felt irritated by how far out of the city centre the hotel they had chosen was, out near Schloss Schönbrunn at Hietzing. Never heard of the place. Not much zing. Burbs.

I dumped my stuff and got on the U-bahn to go to to Franz Josef station for the train to Tulln.

I have just set foot in Tulln, sitting on the platform to finish this. Schiele’s father was an official at this station.

On the underground to the train station I was reading the Wikipedia entry on Schiele. Lo & behold there is a mention of sleepy old Hietzing! Schiele had a studio at 101 of the Hauptstrasse I just walked down. (I’ll go check out the site later.) It is here he met his wife Edith Harms, who lived opposite and features in many of his later paintings. She died three days before him in the Spanish flu epidemic in the wake of WW1. He was just 28 but had brought a new modern expressionist vision to painting.

Update, 5pm:

On the way back from Tulln I’m reading my book on the train – The Travelling Hornplayer by Barbara Trapido, a novel with nothing to do with painters – at least it hadn’t had until I got to the shores of the Danube at Tulln where, as I was reading, one of the main characters meets a student painter at college in Edinburgh. On the train back I got to a passage where this student painter’s style is described: “Stella thinks they [the student painter’s paintings] are maybe just a bit like Auerbach; maybe just slightly like Auerbach crossed with Egon Schiele.”

Too Long in Exile

stolen paintings

I’m sitting here in the James Joyce Foundation in Zurich with in front of me a copy of ‘Thom’s Official Directory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for the year 1904’ published in Dublin by Thom & Co. (Limited) of Middle Abbey-Street. 1904 is the year in which Joyce’s Ulysses is set. This big red volume is the reference book Joyce used to recreate the detail of Dublin from exile here in Zurich. Joyce came to the city on leaving Dublin in 1904 (hence the choice of date for the novel – it is Dublin as fixed at the point of exile) accompanied by his other half, Nora Barnacle. They moved on to Italy/Trieste, back to Zurich, and on to Paris. Much of Ulysses (1922) was written here in Zurich. Joyce left occupied France in 1940 for Zurich where he died in 1941 (aged 59) and is buried.

So I’m flying in this morning with my iPod Shuffle on and up pops Van the Man singing ‘Too Long in Exile‘ with the line “just like James Joyce, baby / Too long in exile” – one of those meant to be moments.

And on the subject of Abbey Street and occupied France, in my hands is a copy of a classy thriller ‘The 6th Lamentation‘ by William Brodrick whose two central characters are a monk and a victim of the occupation of Paris. Another key character is a refugee to Switzerland. So I’m psyched for the Stiftung James Joyce.

I’m welcolmed by a friendly American academic and by the Director and prime mover of the Foundation, Fritz Senn, a Joyce specialist and as near as a Swiss man can be to being Irish.

In the back of Thom’s is an advert for Uska-Slan – Water of Health – in the form of Cantrell & Cochrane’s Table Waters. Just the kind of ad Leopold Bloom would have dealt in. I’m fresh from a lunchtime conversation which included the benefits of Badoit and the insanity of bottled still water. There’s a wonderful passage in Ulysses about water I heard declaimed atop the martello tower in Sandycove, South Dublin on the centenary Bloom’s Day on 16th June 2004.

I can, for example, look up my sister-in-law’s street in Ballybough (PoorTown) and see exactly who lived there in 1904. Mrs Grace at No. 24. A draper at No. 1, a jeweller at No. 14 and Mr John Killen of the GPO at No. 16. It tells you where the pillar boxes were (“Pillar Letter Box adjoining Raglan-road”). I’ve just spotted my father-in-law’s namesake (Murphy, James, esq.) at No. 26 Clyde-road which was valued at 70 pounds – and a certain William McGee at Cobourg-place (next door to Jasper Monahan the spirit grocer, which I assume is a far more colourful name for an off-licence).

My wife has now lived in London – many miles away from the cemetry at Kilbroney, Co. Louth where James Murphy after James Murphy is buried – for more years than she’s lived in Ireland – she went past the mid-point a couple of years ago, very significant really.

When I was in Ireland for the summer holidays last year, staying at said sister-in-law in Ballybough, I picked up a copy (at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham) of ‘That Neutral Island‘ by Clair Wills about the Irish home front in the Second World War. I often wonder what similarities and differences there are between the Irish neutrality and the Swiss. Joyce spent most of the First World War (July 1915 to October 1919) in Zurich, as well as getting the permit for entry from occupied France in late 1940.

A few weeks ago there was a big art robbery just outside Zurich from another Foundation – the Emil Buhrle Foundation. Buhrle was a Zurich-based, German born industrialist who sold arms to the Third Reich. After the war 13 paintings in the collection, which was raided in February by armed masked men, appeared on a list of art looted by Nazis from Jews and eventually he handed them over, getting some compensation from the Swiss government. The provenance of other works in the collection remains shady. Much like the Russian collection currently on show in the Royal Academy, London (in the From Russia exhibition), where the British government had to provide an official ‘safe passage’ document to insulate the dubious pieces from any chance of investigation and return to their rightful owners – Russia’s art galleries are peppered with works ‘nationalised’ after the Revolution or looted in the Second World War, many ultimately from murdered Jews. So one has limited sympathy for the Emil Buhrle Foundation as whose work the masked raiders with the Slavic accents actually stole is a moot point.

I recently came across this quotation by the writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner (and man behind another foundation, this one a Foundation for Humanity, which bears his name) Elie Wiesel (through A.Word.A.Day – a daily email with an interesting new word – might have been Joyce’s cup of tea [my philisophical Zurchner taxi driver earlier today was tickled pink by this British idiom]):

“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

And this popular one attributed to Edmund Burke also comes to mind from the Last Message SMS competition on Lost Generation:

“It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph.”

Reckon I’ll give the last word to Van the Man (not to be confused with White Van Man – the Buhrle robbery was carried out in a white panel van) and his collaborator on ‘Song of Being a Child‘, Peter Handke (not Swiss but Austrian like Adolf Hitler and Simon Wiesenthal, born in 1942, also a collaborator with Wim Wenders [Wings of Desire], a writer who has lived in self-imposed exile in Berlin, the US and for the last two decades Paris):

When the child was a child
It was the time of the following questions
Why am I me and why not you
Why am I here and why not there
Why did time begin and where does space end
Isn’t what I see and hear and smell
Just the appearance of the world in front of the world
Isn’t life under the sun just a dream
Does evil actually exist in people
Who really are evil
Why can’t it be that I who am
Wasn’t before I was
And that sometime I, the I, I am
No longer will be the I, I am

A little more magic from the Hiberno-Germanic melting pot.

Warum bin ich ich und warum nicht du?
Warum bin ich hier und warum nicht dort?

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