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The Portrait of Wally

BY Monika Vrgoč
The Portrait of Wally

The Portrait of Wally tells one of the most inspiring love stories of the early 20th century. The woman depicted in the oil painting, Walburga “Wally” Neuzil (born on August 18th, 1849), was the muse and lover of the famous Austrian painter Egon Schiele. She was buried at the town cemetery of Sinj, called Groblje sv. Frane.

Schiele, a major figurative painter of Art Nouveau and student of the famous Gustav Klimt, created some of his most famous paintings thanks to his love and muse: Wally. Portrait of Wally is one of his masterpieces with an estimated value of 20 million dollars. Today, it is exhibited in the Leopold Museum in Vienna.

In 1911, Walburga “Wally” Neuzil became Schiele’s model, but she was much more than that. Wally was his lover and loyal companion until the spring of 1915. She worked as a cashier, a sales assistant and as a model in a clothing store. She was always immensely supportive of Schiele in his times of personal crisis, even during his imprisonment in April 1912.

In 1915, Schiele leaves Wally to marry Edith Harms, a middle-class woman. The slightly hurried marriage was due to Schiele being inducted into military services in the combats of the First World War. In 1918, Schiele as well as Edith died in Vienna of the most contagious epidemic at the time, the Spanish Flu.

Wally, however, surpassed the unexpected emotional shock thanks to her mental strength and her optimism. She trained as a nurse and worked at a military hospital in Vienna. In 1917, she volunteered to work in the war zone of Dalmatia, where she died of scarlet fever in the military hospital in Sinj on December 25th. Two days later, on December 27th, she was buried at the municipal cemetery Groblje Sv. Frane, according to the death register of the Citizens Registrations Office of Sinj. The Austrian junior lieutenant Franz Schön, with whom Wally, according to some unconfirmed sources, had a romantic relationship, was buried directly next to her.

Art connoisseurs will say that Wally was more than a model and a muse who inspired the painter – her captivating gaze fascinates every viewer of her portraits. Her contemplative glance reflects her serenity and inner peace. She looks at her viewers in a calm, slightly interrogative manner, inspiring them to reflect upon themselves. It is due to this particular look in Wally’s eyes, so similar to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, that the portrait was dubbed the Viennese Mona Lisa.

The entire restauration and reconstruction work of the tomb were executed by the company Statua j.d.o.o. under the guidance of Marijo Čelik, and the epitaph was donated by the company Mramor Granit Marović d.o.o., under the management of Branimir Marović. The Austrian sculptor Bruno Walisch created her porcelain portrait. The tomb was restored with funds of the Wally Neuzil Association, founded on March 23rd, 2017, whose objective it is to research and commemorate the life of Walburga “Wally” Neuzil.

Anđela Šuste

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