The Artist’s Muse

Written by Kerry Postle
Review by Gini Grossenbacher

Vienna, 1907. At age twelve, the fatherless Wally Neuzil finds herself in Vienna with her frail mother and two sisters. She is led to the studio of famed artist Gustav Klimt, and there she is trained to become his model and soon his mistress. Her experiences there shape the way she views men and the world, and although she is featured in Klimt’s paintings, which are the rage of Vienna, she realizes that she has fallen from grace, no more esteemed than a prostitute. Klimt tires of her and seeks other girls to pet and to paint. And Wally discovers love with the young painter, Egon Schiele, who gains notoriety with scandalous paintings that border on the obscene. Despite her revulsion at other’s responses to her own degradation, she continues in an obsessive relationship with the young, brilliant Egon. By his side, she journeys through the netherworld of artists and their patrons, learning with Egon that in order to sell your vision, you need to sell part of your soul.

Writing in first-person, deep point of view, Kerry Postle takes us into the consciousness of young Wally, and there we experience the Vienna of the golden years before World War I, when the Emperor reigned. We see the Vienna when the arts had patrons, and women were objects of grace and lust, to be used as an artist’s model, then cast away like a piece of clay. We see it expressed in Wally’s sentiments: “Because now I can no longer bear to see myself in his pictures. Because I can no longer see the love there. Yet to desperately keep giving of myself, that’s all that I can do.” Entrapped by her family’s economic circumstances, now she has found herself in the lowest rung. Perhaps the oncoming war will sever Wally’s ties with the debauched society which grinds women into pulp in the service of art. A powerful novel I will long remember.