The Body Electric: Erwin Osen and Egon Schiele (2021)

Leopold Museum, Vienna (May - Sept 2021).

The Body Electric brings a series of recently discovered drawings by the Austrian artist Erwin Osen, friend to Egon Schiele, to public view. The works were almost certainly commissioned by Stefan Jellinek, a Viennese physician who specialised in the effects of electrical currents on the body. Newly acquired by the Leopold Museum from Jellinek’s heirs, this is their first ever display, co-curated by Gemma Blackshaw and Verena Gamper.

Osen’s empathic drawings of male figures originated during World War I at the Garrison Hospital II in Vienna, where Jellinek treated soldiers with 'war neuroses' or what would today be described as post-traumatic stress disorder. Electrotherapy was widely used during World War I to treat soldiers who exhibited symptoms of tremor, paralysis, and limb contraction.

Osen’s tender drawings of soldiers who likely had received this treatment emphasise their vulnerability and humanity. They afford us an insight into wartime military medicine and also offer a new view on Vienna’s art history, pointing out the importance of clinical settings for the development of modernist portraiture and figuration. In 1910, Egon Schiele similarly spent time working within a hospital, depicting maternity patients and newborn babies. The exhibition contextualises Osen’s drawings with Schiele’s work, reflecting on what each artist brought to what Gemma Blackshaw describes as Vienna's 'clinical modernism'.

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