I realized today that I have another thought about the differences between Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. I’ve often wondered why Schiele was almost eradicated in his day while Klimt was such a critical and commercial success. I (sort of) have an answer for you.
A Schiele painting, while undoubtedly striking and often beautiful, is always unmistakably a Schiele painting. Klimt could work many angles. His seminal works like The Kiss, Judith and Holofernes, and Sea Serpents (above) are all in his singular style. Yet he could just as easily do more commercial work like the traditional society portrait. Schiele’s work, on the other hand, is always for himself alone. There is nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t always make for easy living as an artist.
Possibly the most stunning part of Klimt’s work, though, is his genius in combining familiar elements with fantasy. Look at his Portrait of Hermine Gallia. It is just as beautiful and sophisticated as a Singer-Sargent society portrait.
Now take a look at Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. The stately tone of a classic portrait is there, but the viewer is at once drawn in and jarred by the flat, lush Byzantine elements. It is important that there is always a transition between recognizable and “magical” in Klimt’s art, because it makes the work more readily acceptable to audiences. With Schiele, however, there is no transition from any type of art viewers find comfortable.