The Hermits

Egon Schiele (1912)

Early 20th century Vienna was a hotbed of progressive thought, and this picture portrays two giants of visual art – Schiele and Gustav Klimt – an Expressionist cousin of Raphaels double portrait. (In music, at the Austrian premiere of StraussSalome in Graz, Mahler, Puccini, Schoenberg, Berg and possibly even Hitler were present.) Klimt was the precocious Schieles mentor and friend, and theyre both seen in black here, a tribute to the entwining bodies we know from Klimts Kiss, but with a very different air temperature. We see only one foot, embedded in the earth, both men springing from the same natural root. Schieles hands, characteristically, are held in an unusual pose, as if accentuating the act of painting. The Christ-like older man, crown of thorns on his head, looks blind – is Schiele mocking him or suggesting hes a seer or visionary? The title, too, suggests men on the margins, with overtones of religious isolation. This isnt beautiful or graceful like Raphaels picture, but in its portrayal of the relationship between two artists whose lives and loves intertwined so often, its unsettling, riveting, and unforgettable.