Bowie and Egon Schiele

The composition for David Bowie’s Lodger album cover reflected the influence of Egon Schiele’s Self-Portrait as Saint Sebastian (1914).

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A major figurative painter of the early 20th century, Egon Schiele’s (1890-1918) work is known for its anguished eroticism, explicit sexuality and raw nudity, exaggerated and distorted bodies depicted through angular, contorted sketches and heavy lines. The twisted body shapes that characterize Schiele’s paintings and drawings mark the artist as an early exponent of Expressionism and his many self-portraits are some of his most inward-looking and objectively tortured works that have influenced multiple artists from Francis Bacon, who was similarly engaged with the relationship between the human body and psychological anguish, to Julian Schnabel, Tracey Emin, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and of course David Bowie. 

In the 1970s, Berlin was a strange, unexplored and politically unstable city, and had the legacy of the German Expressionists in the air. Many bohemians, artists and musicians found their inspiration in this neglected and desolated atmosphere, including cultural trailblazers David Bowie and Iggy Pop. The music they created reflected the atmosphere of Berlin at the time and expressed an artistic freedom, anonymity and new creative inspiration.

Bowie’s ‘Berlin trilogy’ and the rebirth of Iggy Pop with The Idiot and Lust for Life, are acknowledged as important artistic testaments influencing genres of music and musicians up to this very day. Upon relocating there in November 1976, the musicians studied the works of Schiele, Erich Heckel and the Die Brucke (‘The Bridge’) movement, often visiting the city’s Brücke Museum. The album covers accompanying this music projected the influence of the Expressionists often possessing the same avant-garde, emotionless, almost robotic poses, with Iggy’s ‘Idiot’ a homage to Heckel’s painting Roquairol 1917.

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So onto the Lodger LP cover design. During a long BBC Radio One interview in 1979 centred on the making of Lodger, his newest record, he mentioned an artist who was making a big impact on him around then but was largely unknown at the time. It was Egon Schiele. Clearly inspired by Schiele’s self-portraits, it’s the positioning of limbs and figures, an accident victim; contorted, a broken nose achieved through make up, however the bandaged hand came from a real incident where Bowie had burned his hand in a coffee spill on the first morning of the shoot, although it perfectly suites the dishevelment and drama of the image.  

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The original wrap-around gatefold album sleeve featured a full-length shot of Bowie by photographer Brian Duffy, who had previously photographed Bowie on the iconic Aladdin Sane sleeve, was deliberately of low resolution, taken with a Polaroid SX-70 type camera. After shooting on Kodachrome film, Bowie rejected Duffy’s hi-res shots, instead preferring the look of the Polaroid which was used as the album cover at the last minute.

In keeping with the surprise Berlin-themed Where Are We Now single in 2013, Bowie also used a sculpture of Egon Schiele by Al Farrow for the cover of ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ off The Next Day. Some of Bowie’s own paintings can also be seen as a restatement of Schiele’s work, none more so than the cover of the new Brilliant Adventure (1992-2001) boxset due for release on 26th November 2021, the fifth in a series of box sets chronicling his career from 1969 to the 21st century.

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David Bowie in 1977 with a tactically deployed Egon Schiele book.

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Further Reading:

David Bowie & Iggy Pop in Berlin: Rock Pilgrimage

David Bowie: Heroes

♥  The Bowie Connection

More Album Cover Outtakes

♥  Iggy Pop – Top 50 Songs

This entry was posted in Album Covers, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Images. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Bowie and Egon Schiele

  1. Have you seen the cover to Bowie’s Toy album coming out? It is so creepy. These however are much better.

  2. Very interesting. I’m up to visit Leopold Museum in Vienna which keeps many Schiele paintings. Maybe the Bowie spirit will be close to me at that moment. I’ll think about it.

  3. Pingback: Sound & Vision | Bowie’s Album Covers Ranked | THE PRESS | Music Reviews

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