Sunday, May 22, 2011

The tortured fingers of Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele worked with his fingers. He drew and he painted. Above all, in his short career, he became an incomparable painter of portraits. His self portraits are legendary in their intensity and uncompromising expression. 

But one of the recurring themes in the portraits of Schiele, is the depiction of the subject's fingers, painted or drawn long in all kinds of open, twisted and strange symbolic gestures. As if the subjects of the portraits belong to some imaginary aesthetic gang. The position of the hands is always suggestive in Schiele. The fingers are the "mechanical" part of the hand, at the forefront of expressing a need, a thought, the ultimate communication tool in the absence of language. 

Schiele paints the hands and fingers dislocated, stiff, unnatural, almost puppet-like. Often they are larger than life and they somehow have an arresting quality freezing the subject which is often "hiding" behind them. Every knuckle and every joint are exaggerated in their details and the choice of the aquarelle technique with its fluid colors, accentuates the struggle of flesh and bone for every articulation. 

There is tension, anxiety and a confrontational disregard for what was aesthetically the accepted way of painting in terms of subject, emphasis and beauty. The fingers of Schiele are at the same time animated by the rigidity of death and the pleasure of sexual lust and discovery. The discomfort of the pose is a metaphor for the absurdity of life and the human condition. An existentialist cry in sign language. 


  1. as the hands pop out in his portraits, its strange i haven't read about it anywhere. Nice text.

  2. Looking at photographs of his hands he seems to have very eloquent fingers but strange fingernails that draw the eyes to them. The hands in his art look like his hands to me.

  3. tracey min said in an interview that schiele was trying to relate to female masturbation with his hands. would like to read more on this but can't find anything