A man, a woman, and a little child. Their bodies are intertwined, showing their close family bond. But something dark pervades Egon Schiele‘s The Family, something unknown even to the German artist, whose hope of having a family turned into a sorrowful foreboding.
Sharp, fluid and vibrant line
Egon Schiele was a painter of the Viennese Secession and then became part of the Expressionist movement. He was a great friend and pupil of Gustav Klimt, who introduced him to many patrons when Schiele decided to leave the Academy of Fine Arts of Vienna, considered conservative, opting for independent education.
In his works, the line that defines the figures is sharp, fluid, and vibrant. The colors communicate feelings free from bourgeois respectability. Passion, sensuality, discomfort, neurosis, fear, and anxiety, Schiele represented these emotions, preferring subjects such as portraits, nudes, and self-portraits.
A mournful foreboding
The painting entitled The Family was composed in 1918 when Schiele and his wife and model Edit Harms both died. During the composition phase, Schiele gave it the title Crouching Couple, as at first, the work was to represent the painter and his wife. Only later did Schiele decide to insert the figure of the unborn child at the bottom.
The canvas represents the painter’s dream and desired reality but materialized only on this work. Edit contracted Spanish fever during 1918 and died six months pregnant on October 28th. Three days later, Egon Schiele died of the same disease.
In the canvas, the dark tones of the setting are an omen of death and unhappiness: these were the years of the First World War and of the Spanish flu, the epidemic which caused the deaths of twenty million people across Europe.
The family that is about to be formed is not serene, as can be deduced from the adults’ gazes.
The members are naked, innocent, unarmed. The pale, bare skin is almost dazzling in the midst of existential darkness. Schiele represents himself at the apex of this pyramidal composition, with his legs and chest open in an attempt to protect his wife and son. Moreover, he is the only character who looks at us, breaking the fourth wall and imposing on the viewer a dialogue, if not a request for help.
Storytelling of Mourning
The miniseries WandaVision, created in 2021 by Jac Schaeffer for Disney+, tells the stages of mourning within a narrative that plays with viewers through metanarrative and breaking the fourth wall.
Wanda Maximoff, the series’ protagonist, refuses to face the death of her beloved Vision. She seems to be the only one who still holds his memories, alive in her mind and the reality she has artfully recreated through her superpowers. So in her universe, in what she tells herself and the rest of the world, Vision has never died. She even creates a family with him, setting the world of classic and cult American TV series, from black and white to color, with accurate quotes and homages to the serial genre.
Both Wanda and Schiele make the same gesture: they take advantage of their power to create reality to crown their dreams, to save memories and affections, aware that the concrete everyday reality is different.