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Art and Images in Psychiatry
August 2004

Dead Mother I

Author Affiliations


Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2004;61(8):762. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.61.8.762

I shall be the fruit which after its decay will leave behindeternal life; therefore how great must be your joy—to have borne me?1(p87)

—Letterfrom Egon Schiele to his mother, March 31, 1913

On New Year's Eve, 1904, Adolph Schiele, provincial railroad stationmaster and father of Egon Schiele (1890-1918), died in Klosterneuburg, Austria,of tertiary syphilis at age 54 years.1(p9) Fourteen-year-old Egon was devastated by his death.2 Heand his mother and 2 sisters had witnessed his father's rapid decline in theprevious 2 years. They humored him when his hallucinatory guests came fordinner and expressed alarm when he attempted suicide. He had contracted syphilisaround the time of his marriage but refused to admit that he had the disease,would not have it treated, and soon infected his 17-year-old wife.1(p10) Her first 3 pregnancies, all boys,were stillborn; Elvira, the first surviving child, is believed to have diedat age 10 years of meningitis, a complication of late-onset congenital syphilis.Then came Melanie and Egon, the first boy to survive. His mother expressedher gratitude for his birth in her diary. Egon admired his father but foundhis mother to be overprotective and demanding and felt that she did not sufficientlyrevere his father's memory. Wanting him to be an engineer, she strongly objectedto his interest in art despite his obvious talent. She relented and allowedhim to attend art school when he was accepted at the prestigious Vienna Academyof Fine Arts.