But by 1910, Schiele moved away from the geometric patterns that covered the figures of Klimt’s paintings, and established his own unique style. The shift was engendered, in large part, by Schiele’s interest in the human mind, inspired by a potent cocktail of Sigmund Freud’s influence in Vienna, his father’s descent into madness, and his own psychological struggles and obsessions (sorrow and sex, to name two). These concerns manifested in searing self-portraits that revealed a deep engagement with his psyche. In them, he explored his sexuality (in some, his body resembles a turgid phallus, and in others, he investigates gender fluidity by depicting himself with feminine features) as well as his anguish (his fingers are often gnarled, his body writhing, and his skin mottled with dark marks resembling bruises).
Schiele even more overtly, however, probed his interest in the erotic through portraits of young women and men. Controversially, many of these muses were in their early teens, and one was his sister Gerti, with whom he was very close. Though, instead of objectifying their subjects, these paintings and drawings reveal the raw, honest urges of adolescents on the cusp of sexual discovery. Schiele understood the power of his work, too. In a letter to his uncle in 1911, he wrote: “I shall go so far that people will be seized with terror at the sight of each of my works of ‘living’ art.”