Triestiner Fischerboot (Trieste Fishing Boat) is unique within Schiele’s oeuvre. It dates from 1912 when the artist visited the Italian port after being exiled from his home in the Austrian town of Neulengbach.
The trip occurred in the aftermath of what was arguably the most tumultuous and life-changing experience for the artist when he left Austria with the desire to shed his past and to reminisce on earlier visits to Trieste shared with his beloved sister Gerti.
While the artist is best known for his figurative works, this 2ft 6in (75cm) square oil and pencil on canvas can be seen as representation of the loss of freedom after Schiele was arrested and placed on trial in Neulengbach.
He had found himself in a precarious position when a retired naval officer’s daughter asked for his help to run away and, although he returned the girl to her parents, the artist was arrested and placed on trial. He also spent a brief period of in prison.
The painting’s first owner was Heinrich Böhler, who came from a family of known art patrons and was introduced to Schiele in 1914 by Josef Hoffmann. It has been in a private collection since 1962 and will now be appearing at auction for the first time.
Subject and style
The boat in the work can be seen as a powerful symbol of the artist’s state of mind at the time. Although the subject was very different to Schiele’s better-known works, it conveys the same haunted vision expressed in the his portraiture and its style reflects the way the artist explored a modernist treatment of colour, surface, pattern, texture and form.
His decision to use a square format may have been influenced by his friend Gustav Klimt, who originally started adopting this approach at around the same time as Claude Monet was using the square format for his depiction of waterlilies.
Triestiner Fischerboot will be offered at Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale in London on February 26 with an estimate of £6m-8m.
Sotheby’s worldwide head of Impressionist and Modern art and chairman of Sotheby’s Europe Helena Newman said collectors were “affirming their interest in rare and strong Expressionist paintings, as witnessed in our New York sale in November, with a Schiele oil landscape selling for double its low estimate at $24.6m (including premium)”.
By Marissa Payne