The Albertina displays a different view of Egon Schiele’s oeuvre.

The cultural landscape of Vienna is indelibly marked by the work of Egon Schiele, and the superb collection of his paintings at the Leopold Museum remains a fixture on any tour of the city. His prodigious output of more than 330 paintings and over 2,500 drawings is all the more astounding for the fact that he passed away at the tender age of 28, one of the many lives claimed by the Spanish flu pandemic that swept across Europe in 1918.

With the centennial of his death on the horizon, the Albertina presents his smaller-scale drawings on paper, digging deep into their own collection for the occasion. The resulting exhibition is a revelation, even for admirers familiar with his better known painted works – striking as they are with their angular depictions of the human figure and alternatingly bright and muddy palettes, his canvasses tend to obscure the fact that he was a consummate draughtsman, if not the greatest of a stellar generation.

The reduced nature of drawing – compared with painting – allows the viewer to both visually and mentally grasp the image in its totality, seeing through the eyes of the artist (insofar as that is possible). As a result, there is an immediacy to the drawn image that brings it closer to the moment as it was lived and felt. In the succinct words of John Berger, drawing is “a burrowing under the apparent.”

And it is in Schiele’s drawings that the full scope of his artistic prowess is made manifest. With their sparse, deftly assured lines, human forms in vividly contrived contortions, and decisive deployment of color, his subjects emanate life. This show is a rare chance to witness firsthand the magnificence Schiele was able to conjure with a humble pencil.

Egon Schiele

Through Jun 18, Albertina

Open daily 10:00–18:00, Wednesdays to 21:00