The Pornographer of Vienna
Lewis Crofts' fictionalised narrative biography of the Austrian artist Egon Schiele provides a detailed account of the life of the tortured painter, misunderstood for large parts of his life, yet ultimately successful only to succumb to Spanish Flu at an early age. The soubriquet The Pornographer of Vienna was attached to Schiele by a Viennese judge during an obscenity trial since many of his works, provocative and clearly showing female genitals, outraged society and caused Schiele to be incarcerated.
Against the wishes of his bourgeois father, he took a scholarship to the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna – an eye-opening experience that led Schiele into a life-long passion of seducing his models and the prostitutes of the city. During this period he was championed by Gustav Klimt, a man of limitless patience with the fickle and daring young painter.
Schiele is portrayed by Crofts as a capricious social climber of limited intellect. He despised his rich patrons yet was only too eager to join their ranks once he became a celebrated artist. The avuncular Klimt was quick to point out the hypocrisy and their friendship waned as a consequence. It is also clear that Crofts has protective tendencies towards his subject and posits the somewhat dubious claim that Schiele's work was in some way superior to Klimt's. This subjective assertion is baseless and extraneous. Furthermore, Crofts plays fast and loose with his storytelling, and his catalogue of events should not be taken as de facto. Valerie Neuzil's later life is not known yet Crofts has her perishing before Schiele of influenza.
Where this book excels is its ability to captivate. The vivid description of turn of the century Vienna shows the book has been extensively researched and beautifully committed to the page. It is, in essence, a page-turner, and the complex relationships Schiele fostered with his models, partners, family, peers, and sponsors are exquisitely captured.