Schiele’s landmark Danaë comes to auction at Sotheby’s

The mythological work is the artist’s first large-scale figural painting auctioned since 2001


Sotheby’s will offer an early figural painting by Egon Schiele, Danaë (1909), in its Impressionist & Modern Art evening sale in New York on 16 May. Dubbed by the house as the artist’s “first major oil painting of a female nude", the work, painted when he was just 19, is estimated to sell for between $30m and $40m.

Simon Shaw, the worldwide co-head of the Impressionist and Modern Art department at Sotheby’s, said in the house’s news release: "Danaë makes a bold and compelling statement, introducing [Schiele’s] iconic aesthetic: the flattened pictorial space, the angular line, the radical cropping and stippled flesh rendered in pinks and greens.”

Though Schiele died at 28 in 1918, he was a prolific producer of works on paper that mingle the sexual and the existential. Danaë is his first large-scale figural painting to come to auction since 2001. Reminiscent of Schiele’s mentor, Gustav Klimt, who also painted the mythical subject, Danaë was shown at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2013 alongside a nude by Klimt, both on loan from the collection of the British billionaire Joe Lewis. The work will tour to Hong Kong this week, going on view 27 April.

Back in 2011, Sotheby’s set the standing Schiele auction record with an oil from 1914, when the landscape Häuser mit bunter Wäsche (Vorstadt II) (House with colourful laundry, Suburban II), sold for $39.8m with premium. However, the artist’s canvases have their detractors. "Of the approximately 125 items on view," wrote the critic Ken Johnson of a 2014 Schiele show at the Neue Galerie, New York, "only 11 are oil paintings, which is a good thing… Schiele’s paintings are overworked, dark and turgid. His drawings are nimble and nuanced."