100 Works of Art: (Visual) Two Girls (lovers), Egon Schiele

The 100 Works of Art series of blog posts is less a conventional series of reviews/analyses and more a distillation of personal relationships with the pieces in question; for further explanation please see the first of the posts.

18. Two Girls (Lovers), Egon Schiele, 1911

While the Edwardian period produced some fantastic literature and the strange last limping days between fin de siècle and the “death of innocence” embodied by the brutal birth of industrialised warfare and the subsequent destruction of cultural eras and millions of people across Europe and the Middle East produce in hindsight a very real melancholy, in terms of visual art I have always been rather unfond of it.

Egon Schiele enjoys popularity at present with a particular subset of hipsters, but this painting specifically has wormed past my defenses by being my first exposure to the artist and coming to me in grand company.

As with most people, I find that music and visual art are splendid accompaniments to each other, and especially with classical music it’s often possible to find a painting which almost precisely embodies the feelings evoked by a piece. Quite often this is because the artist painted the work after being inspired by the music, or the composer created their masterwork off the back of inspiration gleaned from the painting. Two Girls, by contrast, came to me with a collection of new music which a very dear friend of mine had compiled for me one Christmas in lieu of a card: it was used as the inlay on the CD cover. She’d gone to a lot of effort in selecting the songs, and many of them have gone on to become favourites of mine. The painting’s title became the album title, and the image itself is now inextricably linked to both the compilation and to the generosity of spirit and passion for the arts I always associate with the friend in question.

Two Girls (lovers), Egon Schiele, 1911

Aside from the associations there is a charm in both the colours in this picture and the implied grubbiness of it. After centuries of women who are gleaming pale cathedrals to feminine purity it is quite nice to look at a couple of ladies with presumably dirty bums.

In terms of colour, the warm palette and deep bloody colours of their clothes have a strange dual effect: to my mind it has connotations of something darker and dirtier, to go with the grubbiness of their skin. The women are a pool of darkness with spots of (unclean) light, flipped-up skirts forming an near-halo. For all that it is rather graphic in what it depicts – and the partially-clothed depiction is somehow more emphatic about the sexuality of it than nudity would be – there is more to be found in implication than in depiction.

As with Asobimasho, there is a horizontal line through this picture, above which it is a simple portrait of two women sleeping, and below which it is a frank and slightly voyeuristic depiction of sexual activity. I find frequently that images in which two extremes of propriety, morality, or beliefs are represented in one continuous picture catch my fancy.


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