The Spanish flu epidemic that swept through Europe in 1918 and took the lives of tens of millions of people, received the mighty and terrible illustration from Egon Schiele. The epidemic began in the last months of the First World War and killed far more people than the massive military conflict. Troops moved across Europe, trains and flying airships spread a deadly disease through towns and countries with the inexorable speed. Now any encyclopedic article or historical essay about the "Spanish flu" is illustrated by Egon Schiele's Family painting.
By 1918, Egon Schiele was a leading artist of Austria, after Klimt's death he had all chances to become the leader of the Viennese avant-garde artists and to head all the exhibitions. Besides the artist married, got a big studio and conceived a series of huge paintings.
Even the war spared him. The Christie's experts told the story that Schiele's commander Carl Grunwald was an antique dealer fefore the war, so he had an eye for art. When he saw the work of a young artist, he purchased one drawing, and later he made every effort to rescue Egon from being sent to the front. Guarding prisoners of war and the warehouses in the back, the artist continued to paint and knew the war only by hearsay.
The Family painting is one of the quietest and sad works by Schiele. It depicts the artist himself, his wife Edith Harms, and their unborn child. It is difficult to say if the artist had a presentiment of his impending death, and predicted tragedy. However, the feeling of doom and fear dominated in this work from the very beginning.
This painting is not typical of Schiele. His figures usually break into the space of the painting. Their states are always unstable, arms and legs are twisted in an unnatural gestures and poses, the bodies look like solid bones, veins, and strained nerves. And here everyone seems to have stopped and got relaxed, the bodies acquired softness and smoothness. They resigned and waiting for the coming darkness, waiting until the world will swallow them.
And so it happened. Schiele's life ended tragically, as the life of an expressionist artist should have ended. Edith died of Spanish flu at the 6th month of pregnancy. Egon Schiele died three days after.
There are whole generations in art history, which lived happy or miserable lifes in line with the logic of their era and their own creativity. The era of the centenarian Impressionist artists was followed by the epoque of the entirely different destinies. Van Gogh committed suicide, saying before his death that "sadness will last forever", Edvard Munch died in a ripe old age, but all alone, Franz Marc died in the First World War, Klee and Kokoschka were forced to go into exile. Certainly, the twentieth century would have found another tragic life scenario for Egon Schiele, if the "Spanish flu" had not taken him so quickly.