Austrian contribution to Europa Silver Program “Artists” 2012

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March 15, 2012 – The Austrian Mint has issued on March 14, 2012 a new 20 euro silver coin celebrating world-renowned artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918). The coin is Austria’s contribution to the European Union’s collaborative coin program in which 14 countries are participating this year. The common theme chosen for the European silver program is “Artists.”

Austria / 20 euro / 900 silver / 18.00 g / 20.00 mm / Design: Thomas Pesendorfer and Helmut Andexlinger / Mintage: 50,000.

The obverse of the coin is a careful reproduction of one of the many existing portraits of Egon Schiele. This particular portrait of Schiele, taken by photographer Anton Tricka in 1914 was selected by the mint engraver who worked on this side of the coin, Helmut Andexlinger, “because it includes Schiele’s hands which were so important to his artistic profession.” In the background in the upper left quadrant of the coin is a reproduction of a chalk drawing done by Schiele in 1918 known as “Die Kauernde,” or “The Croucher.” The lower relief used here seems to make the Croucher a bit more distant, in a way the image of the lady appears to come from the imagination of Schiele, which is very appropriate given Schiele’s career of working with so many female models. The font style selected for this side was very much in keeping with the period.

The obverse side of the coin also bears of the privy mark of the European silver program, under the year of issue 2012. As well the obverse depicts the country of issue “Republik Oesterreich”, Republic of Austria, the face value of 20 euros. This side of the coin was designed by the mint engraver Helmut Andexlinger.

The Europa Star Program is a joint endeavor of several member mints of the European Union, which have agreed to issue coins celebrating common aspects of European identity. The issuing of coins is not restricted to countries that issue euros but the participating countries must be European Union members. The distinguishing features of the Europa Star series is that the coins must be at least 900 fine, crown size and bear the privy mark “Europa Star”, a star surrounded by an “E” to represent the European Union. The privy mark should be a clearly distinguishable mark of the coin’s design.

Portrait of Wally, 1912. Leopold Collection, Vienna. Source: Wikipedia.

The reverse of the coin depicts his world famous painting titled “Portrait of Wally,” completed in 1912, one hundred years ago. Wally’s full name was Walerie or Valerie Neuzil. Her larger than normal eyes, tenderly but with a somewhat melancholy look, take in her lover and painter who so gently captured the moment. Her piercing blue eyes and bright red lips are carefully captured by the Mint engraver in a way that one can almost see these bright colors on the silver coin. Her collar is made of a soft flowing cloth. The abstract forms behind her head resemble a halo indicative of just how important Wally was to him. Some wonder if “Wally’s” look captured here foresaw the end of their long-term relationship, in just over two years. Which must also mean that Schiele himself had a sense that this would end because he painted this portrait.

The left side of the coin also painstakingly reproduces the signature of Egon Schiele and the date of the painting, 1912. On the right side is a portion of several leaves of a plant done in an expressionist form. The mint’s chief engraver, Thomas Pesendorfer lovingly created this side.

Egon Schiele was a total free spirit without any cares who was an astounding draftsman at a very young age. He became a protégé of Gustav Klimt and was known for his intense and prolific painting. Many of his nudes often had twisted shapes. He was recognized early for his expressionism.

The Austrian Schiele coin is 900 fine silver, has a face value of 20 euros, legal tender in Austria, contains 18 grams of pure silver and has a diameter of 34 mm. The maximum mintage of this proof coin is 50,000 pieces. Each coin is encapsulated and comes in box with an individually numbered certificate of authenticity.

Schiele had no interest in academia but his family saw his artistic talent very early on. He was sent to the School of Arts and Crafts, but the professors there saw his talent much more in the field of painting rather than applied arts and therefore they insisted that he attend the classical painting school in Vienna’s Academia of the Bildenden Künste. There he studied painting and drawing for three years but he searched for a freer approach to hone his skill. In 1907 he approached Gustav Klimt to be his mentor.

Klimt recognized the greatness in Schiele’s talent and was more than willing to support Schiele by supplying models, introducing Schiele to potential patrons and even buying some of Schiele’s paintings. Klimt also introduced Schiele to the Wiener Werkstaette and the Secession art movement of Vienna. The many famous Secessionist artists of the time included: Josef Hoffman, Rudolf von Alt, Koloman Moser, Joseph Maria Olbrich and of course Gustav Klimt, to name but a few. Their art included sculpture, painting, and architects, all breaking away from the strong conservatism of the time.

Egon Schiele, Death and the Woman, 1915. Oil on canvas. Austrian Gallery, Vienna. Source: Wikipedia.

Schiele left the Art Academy in 1909 and founded the Neukunstgruppe, (new Art Group) along with several other unhappy classmates. Once completely freed from more conservative art approaches, he began to explore human forms, completing many works that were seen as disturbing to a large percentage of the population because of their rather grotesque shapes, twists, and raw honesty. Schiele was not shy to paint what he saw with brutal clarity, including emaciated human nudes and death.

Egon Schiele met Walerie or Valerie Neuzil, known as Wally, when Klimt introduced her to him as a model. They soon moved in together and led a very bohemian lifestyle, which was not accepted but basically ignored in Vienna. The two decided to move to what they hoped would be a freer world, to a village located in Bohemia (today in the Czech Republic) where his mother was born. This small village did not receive their lifestyle at all, nor did the villagers appreciate his rumoured use of young village girls as nude models. So Wally and Schiele moved to a pastoral area about 35 kms outside of Vienna to an inexpensive studio where this “unacceptable” lifestyle continued.

In 1912 he was arrested for seducing an under aged teenager. During his arrest the police also seized about a hundred drawings, which they considered pornographic. He spent some 21 days in jail awaiting his trial. Wally brought him an orange when she visited him in jail. He declared that the orange was his light. Schiele produced a series of 13 watercolor paintings based on his prison experience, including one of oranges. The judge eventually threw out the charges of seduction and abduction. However, he dramatically burned one of the “pornographic” paintings in the courtroom and charged Schiele with making erotic paintings readily available to children.

Much to the surprise of Wally, after they moved back to Vienna – since they definitely could not stay in the village of the scandal and arrest – Schiele decided in 1915 to take up with Edith Harms, a protestant from a middle class family. Schiele was determined to marry, but only for advantage to a more socially acceptable woman. The Harms family just happened to live right across from the studio Schiele had moved into in Vienna. He had hoped to keep his relationship with Wally, but upon his marriage decision, a devastated Wally left and they never saw each other again.

World War I loomed on the horizon and three days after his marriage to Edith, Schiele was stationed in Prague. He never saw any fighting, nor the Russian front, because the officers of his corps recognized his talent and allowed him to continue drawing and painting. By 1917 he was back in Vienna performing light duties at the military supply depot. A new maturity was noted in his numerous paintings. He entered and had some 50 paintings accepted and exhibited in the 49th Secessionist Exhibit. He also had shows during these years in numerous cities including: Dresden, Cologne, Munich, Prague and Zurich, as well as a solo exhibit in Paris in 1914. Schiele’s art began to command higher prices.

Egon Schiele ca. 1918. Source: Wikipedia.

In 1918, Gustav Klimt suddenly died and Schiele was now the most recognized artist of Vienna. During the same year the Spanish flu swept across Europe and claimed more than 20,000,000 lives including his six-month-pregnant wife Edith and then three days later Schiele himself at the age of 28. The last paintings he completed during these three days were of his wife.

A wealthy Viennese art patron Dr Rudolph Leopold bought the “Wally” painting in 1954. Dr Leopold, an ophthalmologist, amassed a collection of some 5,000 paintings of early 20th century art, one of the most significant collections of the period in the world. The government of Austria bought the collection and the majority of it may be viewed in the Leopold Museum in Vienna.

Dr Leopold’s collection focused particularly on Austrian painters and had many paintings by Schiele, Klimt and Kokoschka. He even wrote several books on Schiele.

In the 1990s as happened to many European museums, the Leopold Museum had to deal with several questions of provenance. The main question was the painting in question taken from European Jews when they were forced to flee. The questions of the provenance were first asked of the “Portrait of Wally” which was seized during this process.

In the 1990s several of the Leopold paintings were on display in New York when these questions arose, and hence this “Portrait of Wally” was held in New York. The painting was in limbo for 12 years. To purchase it the Leopold Museum finally paid 19 million dollars in 2012 to the descendants of Lea Bondi Jaray, a Jewish art dealer. The value of Schiele paintings climbed steadily because of the controversy this painting as well as others caused; the value of the paintings and their provenance was frequently covered in world news. Had the painting been bought back by the Museum when it was originally seized it would only have cost 2 million. The Leopold Museum and foundation have paid for the repatriation of some of these paintings by selling other works of art.

Schiele’s life was sadly very short but the Austrian expressionist painter had a very productive life (1890-1918.). His genius is plain to see in the several hundred oil paintings, drawings and erotic sketches that still seem contemporary a century after they were created.

You can find Egon Schiele’s Complete Works here.

This is the site of the Leopold Museum.

And all information on the new coin is available on the Austrian Mint website.