An Egon Schiele painting depicting the artist’s uncle and legal guardian has been rediscovered after being missing for more than 90 years, a museum said.
Leopold Czihaczek at the Piano (1907) was found in a private Viennese collection and will be exhibited for the first time in the Leopold Museum in Austria, which houses the largest and most distinguished collection of works by the great Expressionist.
The piece will be part of the museum’s non-fungible tokens (NFT) collection of 24 paintings and drawings by Schiele, produced in collaboration with LaCollection – a new NFT platform dedicated to museum collections. Funds from the NFT collection will go towards the restoration of the painting and the expansion of the museum’s Schiele collection.
Recognized as one of the most formative and colorful figures of Viennese modernism, Schiele managed to create a seminal body of work before his death from flu at the age of 28 during the 1918 pandemic.
The founder of the Leopold Museum, Rudolf Leopold, was one of the main patrons of Schiele’s work and is credited in large part with its fame.
Leopold Czihaczek at the Piano was painted shortly before Schiele’s 17th birthday. It is impressionistic in style, with a muted palette characteristic of his early work.
Czihaczek became Schiele’s legal guardian after the death of Schiele’s father when the artist was 15. He is depicted in the painting as a civic figure and a man of culture – an ode to the role he would play in the young artist’s life.
“The painting depicts Egon Schiele’s uncle and legal guardian, Leopold Czihaczek (1842-1929), playing the piano in his apartment in the Leopoldstadt district of Vienna,” said Verena Gamper of the Leopold Museum Research Center. After the untimely death of Egon’s father, Adolf Schiele, Czihaczek took custody of Schiele.
The last record of Leopold Czihaczek at the piano can be traced to Rudolph Leopold’s 1972 catalog raisonné of the artist. According to Gamper, it was previously known only from preliminary studies and a 1930 black-and-white photograph showing a room in which it hung.
“Since then, there has been no evidence whether the painting still existed or had been permanently lost,” she said. “It was such an exciting moment to see this poorly documented and presumably untraceable work become a reality, when the owners of the painting got in touch and I realized what kind of treasure they were talking about.”
The NFT collection will reflect topics central to Schiele’s work that continue to resonate today, including gender and androgyny, self-identity and psychological struggle. “As one of the most respected yet controversial modern painters for the disturbing intensity and raw sexuality of his painting, the NFTs provide an opportunity to collect works that evoked a strong visceral reaction in viewers when they were first shown in 1906” the museum said.
NFTs — unique digital assets stored on a blockchain — have gripped the arts industry since digital artist Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, made history last year by selling an NFT for $69.4 million.
Hans-Peter Wipplinger, the director of the Leopold Museum, said: “Leopold Czihaczek at the piano is a masterpiece of Schiele’s early work… The current owners have agreed to make the painting available on permanent loan to the Leopold Museum. After the cleaning and restoration, we will have the opportunity to make it accessible to the public as part of our permanent presentation on Vienna 1900 and within the unique collection of paintings and drawings of the Schiele Museum.”