The self-portrait was a leitmotif of Nepo’s works, a means to explore and interpret himself, and at the same time a field of formal experimentation. After serving in the First World War, in 1925 he co-founded the group of artists called “Wage”, and just a couple of years later became part of theVienna Secession. It was thanks to this connection that his works of this period were so strongly influenced by Giovanni Segantini and Egon Schiele.
The drawing presented here belongs to this period. It refers to an abundant nucleus of portraits and self-portraits from the 1920s that show a formal expressive language strongly similar to secessionist artists. What strikes the eye is the closeness to his angular figures, those drawings filled with crazed tension that tell of a painful experience of existential discomfort. Many of his works, and here it is even more evident, have a strong and violent impact on the observer, who almost espouses the position of a psychoanalytic interpreter. In this self-portrait, an agitated line is entrusted with expressing the meanderings of the painter's mind. Nepo was a skilled draughtsman, with a clear, rapid and dry line, devoid of pentimenti; in his works he made no room for the decorative or aesthetic complacency.
After this first period closer to Secessionist and Expressionist currents, Nepo became fascinated by Neue Sachlichkeit, an artistic movement born in Germany at the end of the Great War as a reaction to Expressionism. The movement came to an end with the rise of the Third Reich, which termed it “Degenerate Art” (Entartete Kunst).
Despite the fact that not many of his works are typical of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement, Ernst Nepo is considered by international critics to be one of the most incisive exponents of this movement in Tyrol. The general public knows him above all for his portraits, his numerous frescoes, mosaics, and paintings on glass. His works are also kept at theTyrolean State Museumin Innsbruck, the University of Applied Arts collection in Vienna, and theMuseion – Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art – in Bozen (Bolzano).