Schiele's portraits reunited in rare Vienna exhibit

For the first time, all portraits and self-portraits by Austrian artist Egon Schiele have been brought together in a single exhibit, opening this week at Vienna's Belvedere museum.

"Almost a third of Schiele's oil paintings were portraits. So it's incredible that there hasn't been an exhibit on this theme until now," Agnes Husslein-Arco, director of the Belvedere museum (, said Wednesday at a presentation of the exposition, which opens Thursday.

Portraits, a reflection of the artist's "exploration of the human psyche," are at the heart of Schiele's work, added curator Jane Kallir, a US art historian of Austrian origin.

In total, "Egon Schiele: Self-Portraits and Portraits" features 95 paintings, including 22 on display in Austria for the first time.

Together they trace chronologically his development as an artist, from his first works as a student at Vienna's Fine Arts Academy to his "expressionist breakthrough" starting in 1910 - a particularly productive year - up until maturity, which culminated with his marriage to Edith Harms, a young lady of the Vienna bourgeoisie.

Several of her portraits are here on display.

"This evolution is also emotional, you really follow somebody who was still almost a teenager when he created his first works, and you see him become an adult," said Kallir.

Schiele's self-portraits are also on prominent display at the Belvedere: rarely has an artist been a model for his own art as much as the Austrian, noted Kallir.

"Only maybe Rembrandt painted more self-portraits."

And yet, Schiele's career was short, barely 12 years from his beginnings at the Academy to his death in the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918, aged just 28.

In his self-portraits, he depicted himself as a saint, a sick man, or a prisoner - in 1912, he spent time in jail on suspicions, finally quashed, of abuse of minors.

Letters from the artist and several photographs complete the exhibit, which runs until June 13.