There is no more revelatory or intimate a subject for an artist than a self-portrait. This was especially true for Egon Schiele, whose unmatched skill as a draftsman could expose the intimate details and peculiarities of the body that would otherwise go unnoticed. Because he was not dependant upon the cooperation of his models to translate his vision for these works, Schiele's self-portraits are often more revealing than even his most salacious pictures of nude women. He was completely without restriction in portraying his own vulnerability, playfulness or absurdity, and this freedom of expression is undeniably apparent in this fantastic gouache from 1917.
In Selbstbildnis mit kariertem Hemd, Schiele rendered what would be regarded as one of his signature poses. His body is self-consciously mannered and his fingers are splayed in a meaningful, stylized gesture. Unlike some of his self-portraits from earlier years in which he depicts his body entirely in the nude, he has chosen here to portray himself clothed in a checkered shirt, vest and tie. No longer the narcissistic, erotically-obsessed adolescent of his earlier compositions, the artist is depicted here as a self-possessed, mature adult with emphasis on the psychology of his character, rather than his physicality. The tilt of his head, the half-open mouth and the unsettling stare of his hollow eyes deliver a visual impact that is most powerful and confrontational.
As Jane Kallir notes: "Schiele's work becomes increasingly naturalistic over the course of 1917. Soft pencil gradually gives way to black crayon, which yields heavier, more even lines that are less prone to the fluctuations in density and strength characteristic of pencil. The artist evinces a far greater economy of line, fixing his subjects in single, perfect strokes and avoiding the complicated retracing and doubling of earlier times. Simultaneously, Schiele demonstrates a greater interest in molding interior contours with short, soft strokes" (Kallir, op. cit., p. 567).
For the present portrait, Schiele presents himself at close range, wearing a brightly colored, checkered shirt that dominates the composition. The folds of the fabric and the way the sleeves cling to his arms give definition to his upper body and even to the negative space of the unrendered torso. Schiele's focus on this shirt as a self-defining element was not without meaning -- it was a symbol of his renewed civilian status following months of having to wear a military uniform during the war. Jella Pollak, a young art student who came to visit the artist around the time he completed this work, remembered it well: "He wore an -- at that time -- unusual shirt, large blue checks on a beige background," (quoted in Mitsch, 1988, op. cit., p. 91).
Schiele cultivated a theatrical persona for his self-portraits, and often depicted himself in overly-mannered, hyper-articulated poses that accentuated his individuality (see figs. 2 & 3). He sometimes positioned his hands in contoured formations, often splaying his fingers in the form of a "V" as if to share some sort of cryptic signal with the viewer. In her discussion of Schiele's self-portraits, Alessandra Comini has written about Schiele's ostentatious modeling preferences, and makes specific reference to his Self-Portrait Squatting I from 1916 and the present work: The Self-Portrait Squatting I of 1916 represents the first in a series of nude studies in which the artist was searching not for an emotion, but for a unique "signature" pose which could be associated with himself in a major work. During 1917 and 1918 the invention of this pose was often on his mind and experimentation was not limited to those times when he was actually posturing in the nude before his mirror. A spontaneous combination of three essential features of the pose as finally conceived -- the extended left shoulder line, the 'broken' or 'open' position of the arms, and the raised right hand with bent thumb and V gesture -- may be seen in the 1917 Self-Portrait in Checkered Shirt. This is not a drawing of psychological depth; the pose with its sudden swivel suggests an impulsive look in the mirror. Schiele's head is bent to one side and his expression is quizzical. Obvious delight has been taken in coloring the 'civilian' shirt and a sculptural dimension is attained by dabbling the skin surface with flecks of color." (Comini, op. cit., p. 174)
Fig. 1, Egon Schiele in 1914, photograph by Anton Trcka
Fig. 3, Egon Schiele, Selbstbildnis in lila Hemd und dunklem Anzug, stehend, 1914, gouache, watercolor, and pencil on paper, Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna
Fig. 4, Egon Schiele, Sebstbildnis als Akt, hockend, 1916, watercolor and pencil on paper, Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna
Fig. 4, Egon Schiele in 1915, photograph by Johannes Fischer
Gouache, watercolor and black crayon on paper
New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, 1965, no. 60 (addenda)
17 7/8 by 11 3/4 in. 45.5 by 30 cm
Erwin Mitsch, Egon Schiele, Zeichnungen und Aquarelle, Salzburg, 1961, illustrated p. 63
Alessandra Comini, Egon Schiele's Portraits, Berkeley, 1974, fig. 128b, illustrated
Christian M. Nebehay, Egon Schiele, Leben, Briefe, Gedichte, Salzburg-Vienna, 1979, fig. 133, illustrated p. 402
Christian M. Nebehay, Egon Schiele: Leben und Werke, Salzburg, 1980, fig. 180, illustrated p. 185
Gianfranco Malafarina, L'opera di Egon Schiele, Milan, 1982, no. D102, illustrated p. 118
Christian M. Nebehay, Die goldenen Sessel meines Vaters, Vienna, 1983, fig. 93, illustrated p. 117
Erwin Mitsch, Egon Schiele, 1890-1918, Salzburg, 1988, fig. 68, illustrated p. 91
Christian Nebehay, Egon Schiele: Von der Skizze zum Bild, Vienna-Munich, 1989, fig. 139, illustrated
Jane Kallir, Egon Schiele, The Complete Works, New York, 1998, no. 2121, illustrated p. 596 and illustrated in color pl. 94
Gustav Nebehay , Vienna (probably acquired from the artist)
Christian M. Nebehay, Vienna (a gift from the above on Christmas 1932)
Thence by descent to the present owner