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Love story in pictures: Egon Schiele and Wally Neuzil

It sounds incredible, but the woman who was Egon Schiele’s main muse and, perhaps, the only one he loved, was just 23 when she died of scarlet fever. Their love, too, lasted for four years. Still, this period was by far the most prolific in the painter’s life. He did not outlive his young nymph by long; it was not death, though, that parted them, but Schiele’s marriage to another woman who seemed more socially acceptable.
Love story in pictures: Egon Schiele and Wally Neuzil

The young talent

Early last century, the job of an artist’s model was as respected as that of a prostitute and of similar status value. Normally, women who sat for artists were of low birth, with no education or pedigree. Walburga Neuzil was one of those.

She was an illegitimate child. When she was half a year old, her parents got married, and the girl was given a surname after her father, a teacher in a minor country town close to Vienna. When Josef Neuzil died (which is thought to have happened in 1905), the mother with Wally and three younger daughters moved to Vienna. Being scarce of money, they often changed houses. The girl had to start earning for a living herself, and she jumped at any job opportunity, whether it was a cashier, a shop assistant, or a fashion model.
Egon Schiele. Gustav Klimt in Blue Smock, 1913

By a version, it was Gustav Klimt, Schiele’s teacher

Egon Schiele. Gustav Klimt in Blue Smock, 1913

By a version, it was Gustav Klimt, Schiele’s teacher and patron, who introduced him to Wally in 1911 — she, supposedly, sat for Klimt’s paintings. The 16-year-old model was rumoured to be in love with the painter who was in his late forties. However, there is no documentary evidence for the fact, which, thus, remains a mere piece of gossip.

At first, Neuzil and Schiele did not go beyond professional cooperation, and he even paid her for modelling. Quite soon, though, their relations developed into a wildest affair that glowed too hot for the virtuous burghers of Austria. When the two lovers took up residence in Krumau (now Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic), the birthplace of the painter’s mother, they had to leave the town half a year later because of the neighbours complaining of so immoral a liaison. From the short Krumau period, there remained Schiele’s fascinating paintings of picture-postcard cottages.

The funny pictures

The couple moved to the town of Neulengbach, but things only got worse. There, Schiele even landed in jail. By some accounts, the police descended on his studio for a girl who had run away from home and sought shelter for the night at Egon and Wally’s. In the studio, the police seized some pictures, too scandalous by the standards of those days, portraying nude
The nude is the genre focused on the aesthetic aspect of the naked human body. The term traces its origin to the Latin nudus (“naked, bare”) and is cognate with the French nudité (“nudity”). Read more
Neuzil and other models. The painter was incriminated distribution of obscene images.
  • Egon Schiele. Schiele’s Room in Neulengbach, 1911
  • Egon Schiele. Prison. "I Feel Not Punished but Purified", 1912
Throughout the trial process, Schiele spent three weeks in prison. During those days, Wally was doing her best to keep his spirit up, bringing him food and supplies for painting. He would write later, "Among my closest acquaintances nobody did anything, except for Wally, whom I had only recently met and whose conduct was so noble that I was captivated." In the end, Schiele was convicted of exhibiting erotic drawings in front of a minor. He had to stay three extra days in prison, in addition to the time he had already served.
It was neither the first nor the last scandal involving Schiele and — directly or indirectly — Wally

It was neither the first nor the last scandal involving Schiele and — directly or indirectly — Wally. The Catholics' indignation was caused by the oil painting entitled Cardinal and Nun (1912). Not only was the subject outrageous, but the public recognised the painter’s features in the nun’s face and spotted that the cardinal’s legs were actually Neuzil’s (in the canvas, they looked quite the same as in the watercolour of the girl).

  • Egon Schiele. Wally Neuzil Kneeling with Grey Cloak. 1912
  • Egon Schiele. Self-Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder. 1912
The pictures proving that the public’s opinion did have a leg to stand on.
The nun’s face.

In truth and fidelity

Having Wally as a partner was, in many ways, a blessing and a benefit for the painter. She was never tired of non-stop posing, both solo and with other girls (in the latter case, she could keep an eye on them preventing any amorous advances to hot-blooded Schiele). It is believed that it was during his Wally affair that he entered into artistic maturity and fully developed his creative power. It was the period when he created almost all of his best and most recognisable works.
Overflowing with sensuality and having no taboos, she inspired Egon to paint her again and again. In his pictures, he conveyed his special feeling toward the model, they are full of warmth that makes them extremely attractive. They instantly enter our mind and stay there forever.
  • Egon Schiele. Two Female Nudes, 1912
  • Egon Schiele. Woman in Underclothes and Stockings, 1913
The painter’s acquaintances did not take his model seriously, so her business acumen was quite a surprise for them. She turned out to be capable of managing all of Schiele’s finances, of dealing with his clients, art collectors, and gallery owners. Acting as his agent, she, in person, delivered his erotic drawings to thу people who commissioned them. She made rent payments, and was both his manager and housekeeper.
Egon Schiele. Wally Neuzil, 1912

Although not a timid sort of person, Wally was quite thin-skinned.

Egon Schiele. Wally Neuzil, 1912

Although not a timid sort of person, Wally was quite thin-skinned. Malignant remarks about her social position she heard from the neighbours or Schiele’s clients could easily make her cry. Arthur Roessler, his friend who patronised him, called Wally ‘his shadow'. But in 1915, after Schiele was drafted into the army, he wrote to Roessler, "I intend to get married, advantageously. Not to Wally."

Betrayal and death

Some sources suggest that Wally herself might have introduced the painter to his future wife. Edith Harms’s home was not far from Schiele’s studio in Vienna. Her family, though not very well-off, was decent and respectable.
  • Egon Schiele. Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, 1917
  • Egon Schiele. Edith Schiele, the Artist’s Wife, Seated, 1915
Judging by the portraits, Schiele had some affection towards his wife — at least a sort of liking. It was hardly a pure marriage of convenience, and even if it was, after some time, it must have grown into something deeper, as it happens sometimes. However, his pictures of Edith have not a whit of the passion his watercolours of Neuzil are permeated with.
But he appeared to be unable to break up with Wally once and for all, so he acted as a real freak. In the Café Eichberger, where they met for the last time, he silently handed her a letter in which informed her of his marriage to Edith but suggested taking an annual summer holiday with him (his wife was to stay home). Wally declined so demeaning an offer and coolly departed: no pathos, no drama, no tears.
Photo source:

A girl from the lower class, she turned out to be stronger than anyone could

Photo source:

A girl from the lower class, she turned out to be stronger than anyone could have expected. Schiele’s wicked blow did not knock her down. Quite the contrary, she trained to be a nurse and then worked in a war hospital in Vienna. At the end of 1917, while visiting Croatia with a Red Cross mission, she died of scarlet fever in the town of Sinj.

There is a legend that when Schiele got word of her death, he renamed the canvas The Man and the Maiden (1915) as Death and the Maiden. The prototypes for the characters were Egon himself and his surpassing muse. Perhaps, he thus declared himself responsible for her death. Had he stayed with her, Neuzil would not have gone to nurse the wounded and could have survived. He himself, though, had but very little of his life left: ten months later, Egon and pregnant Edith died of Spanish flu.

Film, film, film

Needless to say, this story, so rich in scandals, intrigues, passions, and tragedies, could not fail to inspire novelists and scriptwriters. Schiele’s biography and his relations with Wally Neuzil have become the subject of a number of books (Lewis Crofts’s The Pornographer of Vienna, Joanna Scott’s Arrogance) and films — feature films as well as documentaries.

There are other traces the shameless couple have left behind. In Tottendorf, Neuzil’s hometown, there is a square named after her. And Wally’s portrait painted in 1912 even left mark in history. Following the case of changing its ownership, 44 countries signed, in 1998, the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.
  • Egon Schiele. Self-Portrait with Physalis, 1912
  • Egon Schiele. Portrait of Wally Neuzil, 1912
After the long years of a lawsuit, these likenesses of Egon and Wally made a sort of diptych in the Leopold Museum. The art collector from Austria Rudolf Leopold, a passionate admirer of Schiele’s painting, collected more than two and a half hundred pieces by the artist. It would have been a great pity if these portraits had been parted.
As for the cinema, the latest film was released in 2016. It is the biographical drama Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden by Dieter Berner, a film director from Austria (not to be confused with the Roman Polanski production of the year 1994 Death and the Maiden starring Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley).
  • A still from 'Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden'
  • Egon Schiele. From:
Noah Saavedra starring as Schiele is a real beauty unlike the person he plays. But he appears so nice on the screen that we can forgive him his good looks.
  • Egon Schiele. Woman in Black Stockings, 1913
  • A still from ‘Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden’
Dieter Berner’s film does not only focus on the artist’s affair with his devoted muse, it also shows Schiele’s relations with his sister Gerti, who was another model for his pictures, and with Moa, an exotic dancer. But, nevertheless, the events are driven mainly by Wally and Schiele’s all-consuming, wild passion.
A still from ‘Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden'
A still from ‘Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden'