Artists Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt can still stir up controversy

As if they weren't enough trouble while they were alive, long-dead expressionist artists Egon Schiele and his mentor Gustav Klimt were recently stirring up trouble on London's underground.

Huge posters depicting the Viennese artists' startling nude portraits were posted throughout London's underground and in German bus shelters.

Commissioned by the Viennese Tourist Board, the posters were to mark the 100th anniversary of the artists' deaths. But even now, in 2018, the images have been deemed too racy for public spaces.

Long thought of as protagonists in exploring human sexuality in Vienna, Schiele and Klimt frequently challenged conventional ideas about art with their paintings of women during the ''wild'' Secession at the turnaround of the 20th century, we learned on a guided tour of Vienna's Leopold Museum, which is holding a special exhibition of Schiele's work through to November this year.

Things took a very serious turn for Schiele and his muse, a former prostitute, when they made the rather risky decision to leave Vienna and seek inspiration in the small Austrian town of Neulengbach.

Their studio was often frequented by young delinquent teens – mostly girls – who would pose for the avant garde artist. He also found he could make a schilling or two on the side drawing pictures for those not necessarily interested in fine arts.

The enraged father of a 12-year-old girl set alarm bells clanging. Schiele had gone one troubled teen too far and police were sent to investigate his home. They confiscated more than a hundred pictures, including one drawing found pinned to a wall that was considered obscene, and in full view of the visiting teens.

In 1912, the artist was subsequently arrested on charges of pornography. Fortunately for Schiele, police got bored with the case and he only spent a month in jail on the grounds of "public immorality" – drawn from the one painting he'd left pinned to a wall authorities deemed to be on public display.

Schiele was rumoured to have purged his collection of young subjects following his jail time, as most have vanished into thin air. He set about improving his public image, ditching his lover, and marrying a more respectable Edith Harms in 1915. His female subjects seemingly evolved into adult women, replacing his predilection towards gawky teens.

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Schiele succumbed to the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, aged 28, within days of his wife, who was six months pregnant. Gustav Klimt died from pneumonia the same year, which also saw the end of World War I.

Throughout 2018, Vienna will be hosting a year-long series of art and exhibitions celebrating their work and Viennese modernism, including Schiele's "Jubilee" exhibition, which focuses on the expressionist years of 1910-1914.

The posters marking the event have returned to bus shelters and underground stations across Europe, albeit censored, with the offending genitalia hidden by a yellow banner saying "SORRY, 100 years old but still too daring today."

The censorship paid off for the tourist board, whose campaign took off on social media with the hashtag #DerKunstihreFreiheit (#ToArtItsFreedom) which comes from the slogan "To every age its art, to art its freedom," on the Viennese Secession, an art exhibition space founded by Klimt in 1897.

This was also the space where Schiele received broader acceptance as an artist, although not until 1918, the same year he met his untimely death.

TRIP NOTES

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Traveller.com.au/vienna

austria.info

FLY

Thai airways flies to Vienna via Bangkok, Thaiairways.com.au

STAY

Hotel Sacher is Vienna's most renowned hotel and represents five-star Viennese accommodation at its finest. It has large, stylish suites, several dining rooms, a bar and a cafe where people queue daily for a slice of the original Sacher Torte. Hotelsacher.com.vn

Hotel Topazz is a modern, boutique hotel in the heart of Vienna's shopping district, with signature circular windows from which to watch Vienna go by. Hoteltopazz.com.vn

VISIT

The Leopold Museum in Vienna has the largest and most important compilation of works by Schiele and Klimt. Leopold.com.vn

EAT

Designed by Adolf Loos, the beautiful Cafe Museum is almost as famous for its great coffee and cake as it is for being the place where the artists themselves used to spend their spare time. cafemuseum.at

The writer travelled as a guest of the Austrian National Tourist Office and Thai Airways.

See also: World's largest digital art gallery lets you walk inside the work of Klimt

See also: The top 10 artworks you need to see in real life