Schiele, unable to afford professional models, often depicted very young, working-class girls or prostitutes in unashamedly sexual poses. The awkwardly contorted body language that he favored conveys an uncomfortably suppressed emotion. In drawing, unlike painting, Schiele typically treated his subjects in a sexually explicit way. Drawings such as this were in much demand from Schiele’s Viennese patrons.
Gallery label from German Expressionism: The Graphic Impulse, March 27–July 11, 2011.
Girl with Black Hair is one of two erotic watercolors of the same subject, both of which are closely related compositionally. Here the young woman, in a half-seated, half-reclining pose, displays her genitalia unashamedly; her partly closed eyes do not confront the artist or the viewer but stare into space with detachment and boredom. Her black skirt, bunched up around her waist, reflects the form of her abundant black hair. The pose of the girl suggests that the work was executed from a vantage point above the figure. Reportedly, Schiele's favorite mode of working was to observe his models from above (using a stool or ladder) while they reclined on a low couch expressly built by him for this purpose. Young women in various stages of undressing or nude constituted one of Schiele's favorite subjects. His models were often pubescent girls of working-class background or even young prostitutes, since the artist, having been cut off from any financial support by his family, could not afford to hire professional models. During 1911–12 he executed some of his most provocative depictions of female nudes—often in contorted and unnatural poses: standing, sitting, reclining, or kneeling. Such drawings, exhibiting a bold expressiveness of body language and a masterful handling of the watercolor medium, were in great demand among Schiele's Viennese patrons.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 55.