In Leopold Museum: Wally Neuzil and Her Life with Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele: „Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant” (1912) and „Portrait of Wally Neuzil” (1912). Photo: © artnovini.comVIENNA. The painting Portrait of Wally Neuzil (1912), housed by the Vienna Leopold Museum, is among the most well-known works by Egon Schiele (1890-1918). The upcoming exhibition Wally Neuzil. Her Life with Egon Schiele (27th February 2015 to 1st June 2015) at the Leopold Museum seeks to uncover the person behind the portrait, Walburga Wally” Neuzil (1894-1917), approaching her through artworks, autographs, photographs and documents.

Featured in the presentation will be eminent paintings by Schiele, such as Death and the Maiden (1915), an important loan from the Belvedere, as well as drawings and watercolors by Schiele for which Wally acted as a model. The exhibition comprises works from the Leopold Museum, the Leopold Private Collection as well as loans from Austrian and international collections.

The exhibition examines the stages of Wally’s life, her professions, from model to nurse, and tells the tale of a woman’s fate in fin-de-siècle Vienna, between self-sacrifice and self-fulfillment, between a life without taboos and profound humanity, announced form Leopold Museum.

Wally Neuzil in Gmunden am Traunsee (Juli 1913). Photo: © Wien MuseumWally Neuzil was not only Egon Schiele’s model from early 1911 but also his girlfriend and faithful companion until the spring of 1915. Having started out as one of many models, she soon played a key role in Schiele’s life and works. Schiele created himself, his vision of an artist, through his works, while Wally revealed to him a world that was indispensable for this development – an open sexuality that had progressed from the constraints and dangers encountered by adolescents towards an emotionality enjoyed on an equal footing, an ability to have relationships and with it a more stable, reliable self.

While she modeled for Schiele, Wally was also working as a sales assistant, a cashier and mannequin at a clothing store. Together with Schiele she moved to Krumau (Český Krumlov) in the spring of 1911 and visited him in Neulengbach. She stood by him during his time in prison in April 1912, trusted in his integrity and provided active support throughout this crisis. Until early 1915 she remained the person the artist related to most closely.

In 1915 Schiele separated from Wally in a devastating scene and decided to marry Edith Harms (1893-1918), who hailed from a middle-class background. The fact that Schiele was drafted into World War I as a soldier was certainly one of the reasons behind this speedy wedding.

Wally Neuzil overcame this severe crisis and decided for her part to return confidently and actively to society. She trained to be a nurse and worked in a war hospital in Vienna. In 1917 she volunteered to go to Dalmatia, where she died towards the end of that year from scarlet fever aged only 23.

Wally was much more than merely a passive model. What is most striking about her portraits is the look in her eyes. Wally’s „mirror gaze” shows her to be at peace with herself, to look calmly and inquiringly at her companion, thus challenging him to question himself. The enigmatic power of this look, so similar and yet so different as that captured by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), makes her a modern Mona Lisa.

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Prof. Dr. Rudolf Leopold in front of „Cardinal and Nun”. Photo: © Leopold MuseumEgon Schiele
Leopold Museum

Comprising 41 paintings and 188 works on paper, the Leopold Museum houses the largest and most eminent collection of works by the Expressionist Egon Schiele (Tulln 1890-1918 Vienna). The collection was compiled by the ophthalmologist Prof. Dr. Rudolf Leopold (1925-2010) over several decades.

When Schiele died in 1918 aged only 28 from the Spanish Flu, he was regarded by many as the most important Austrian artist of his time. During the decades following his untimely death, however, he was increasingly forgotten and was posthumously labeled a „degenerate artist” by the National Socialists. In the early 1950s, the young medical and art history student Rudolf Leopold saw the works of Egon Schiele for the first time. He recognized that in their quality, expressiveness and technical mastery Schiele’s works were comparable to those of the Old Masters.

Over the years, the collection grew to be the most eminent compilation of Schiele’s works in the world, comprising 41 paintings and 188 works on paper. While Rudolf Leopold was particularly enthusiastic about the artist’s early Expressionist phase, which today is undisputedly considered to be Schiele’s most important artistic period, the collection includes paintings and drawings from all periods of the artist’s oeuvre. Paintings including Seated Male Nude (a selfportrait, also known as Yellow Nude) of 1910, The Hermits of 1912 (probably depicting Egon Schiele with Gustav Klimt), the 1912 Selfportrait with Physalis and its counterpart Portrait of Wally Neuzil as well as Cardinal and Nun (Caress), also of 1912, are among the artist’s most widely known works. Along with his selfportraits, portraits and allegories, his cityscapes, especially those depicting Krumau, constitute another emphasis in Schiele’s oeuvre. The Leopold Collection features extraordinary landscapes, including Houses by the Sea and the 1915 views of Krumau Crescent of Houses and House Wall on the River. A hundred years after their creation, these paintings have lost none of their fascination and topicality. The 1915 canvas Levitation (The Blind II), created during World War I, is not only one of the artist’s most expressive paintings but also the largest extant work by Schiele.

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