The Embrace, 1915 by Egon Schiele

This most passive of all Schiele's self-portraits was among three works, begun in 1915, entitled The Embrace. The series becomes progressively more sexual and energetic, and each work is a cathartic response to the early months of Schiele's marriage. The work is a tongue-in-cheek play by Egon Schiele and a slightly sacrilegious homage to his master, Gustav Klimt's The Kiss.

This, the earliest embrace, shows husband and wife squatting doll-like on the floor in a pose which transpires to be the exact opposite of that adopted by Schiele in his subsequent masterpiece, The Family. Edith despondently leans against her husband's shoulder and stares un-comprehendingly at the world while clasping the body of Schiele from behind, wrapping her legs around him in support mirror, hands delving down between his legs, hiding and stimulating his penis.

The lifeless, doll-like posture and forms of the bodies are echoed in Schiele's Two Girls Lying Entwined, also from 1915, which seems to be an early stage in the development of the artist's signature pose expressed most fully in the Self-Tortrait Squatting of 1916 and culminating in The Family of 1918. For the first time in the war years Schiele presents himself not only as husband and father - figure but also as lover.

The artistic and marital problems confronted by Schiele in The Embrace series reach an expression of fulfillment in the triumphant large masterpiece in oil, completed in 1917 and also entitled The Embrace.