Painted in 1913, Frau in Unterwäsche und Strümpfen (Valerie Neuzil) is a warm, intimate and subtly erotic portrait of Schiele's lover 'Wally'. Making dramatic use of the rich orange of his sitter's hair, lips, hairband and stockings, it is one of the finest of a long series of pictures of the woman who served as Schiele's companion, confidant and muse during his early years of struggle between 1911 and 1915.
Comparatively little is known about Vally Neuzil known as 'Wally'. She is believed to have been the daughter of a school teacher in Tattendorf in Lower Austria who became a model for Gustav Klimt. It was there, in Klimt's studio that she first met Schiele, soon afterwards becoming the younger artist's model and girlfriend. Wally subsequently became Schiele's closest companion and support through the difficult years of 1911 and 1912 as well as an important influence on his art. It was Wally who stood by Schiele throughout these years of relative poverty and when he was forced to leave his mother's native town of Krummau because of public disapproval about his 'ungodliness' in not going to church and his 'living in sin' with his girlfriend. Wally also supported Schiele throughout his ordeal in Neulengbach when the artust was arrested and briefly imprisoned on charges of obscenity and of 'corrupting minors'. Most importantly, however, it was Wally and Schiele's deepening relationship with her that seems to have been responsible for bringing about a new sensuality into Schiele's art, rounding out the raw eroticism that had distinguished his early work and introducing a deeper, more mature and joyous sense of sexuality and spiritual potential.
Whereas Schiele's earlier erotic drawings and watercolours of his models had depicted the sexual impulse as an intense, almost mystical or spiritual force pulsating through his subjects with all the inquisitive fascination of the voyeur, Schiele's erotic portraits of Wally display a charming intimacy and the seductive knowingness of collaboration and/or co-conspiracy. In Schiele's paintings and drawings of his lover, Wally often engages the viewer with a questioning or, as in this work, a furtive and coquettish glance that betrays the kind of personal relationship between artist and sitter that is wholly absent from the raw sexuality of most of Schiele's earlier watercolours.
By 1913, Schiele's more subtle and insightful depiction of his sitters as personalities rather than as mere sexual objects also began to make itself visible in the style of his drawing and painting. Whereas in earlier drawings the artist presented his subjects as almost two-dimensional forms seemingly pinned back for observation like insects against the bleak emptiness of the page, in 1913, Schiele began to experiment with more overtly rounded three-dimensional depictions of his model's in three-quarter view, often using dramatic foreshortening to emphasize their physicality. In Frau in Unterwäsche und Strümpfen (Valerie Neuzil) the twist of Wally's flirtatious pose is emphasized and articulated by the graphic lines of the folds in her underwear to suggest a living breathing body in motion. Whereas in the past Schiele might have outlined the figure in white to give it an electric sense of radiance and energy or flushed his sitter's face to hint at the sexual drive pulsing inside, the flames of desire in this work are more subtly articulated in the vibrancy with which Schiele has coloured Wally's hair, lips and stockings. Their extreme contrast with this otherwise almost entirely colourless drawing emphasizes this aspect of the sitter in a more understated but ultimately more natural, realistic and successful way.
This emphatic use of a brilliant orange - something that the red-hair of Wally seems to have prompted in Schiele's art - was a prominent feature of Schiele's art at this time. Schiele painted himself on several occasions donning a vibrant orange shirt or cape often in the guise of a monk. The role of the monk was one that Schiele seems to have revelled in, regarding himself as a kind of prophet of a new religion of the spirit and manifesting himself as such in a series of large scale oil paintings in which Wally was often depicted as his accomplice. Wally too was the model for the figure of the nun caught in an erotic embrace with Schiele's priest in his iconoclastic and deliberately provocative painting The Cardinal and the Nun of 1912 painted in response to the scandals in Krummau and Neulengbach.
In these paintings, as in watercolours like Frau in Unterwäsche und Strümpfen (Valerie Neuzil), Wally's presence appears more as collaborator in Schiele's artistic enterprise than as its subject or muse. This collaboration was to come to an abrupt end in 1915 however, when Schiele abandoned Wally in order to marry Edith Harms. 'I'm going to get married - a very good match, not Wally', Schiele wrote to his friend Arthur Roessler at this time. The strange way in which this important partnership finally came to an end was also related by Roessler who met with Wally shortly after her last ever meeting with Schiele. Wally told how the artist, related how he had been forced to abandon her on the instructions of his future bride, but was still entertaining the idea of maintaining a secret relationship whereby he and Wally might meet for a holiday two weeks every year. Wally walked out of this meeting with Roessler and went to work for the Red Cross as a nurse in the war that was by then engulfing the crumbling Austro-Hungarian Empire. She died of measles in a military hospital in Dalmatia at the end of 1917, nine months before the end of the Empire, the war and also the deaths of both Klimt and Egon and Edith Schiele.