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Vienna – museums and culture trail

April 27, 2019

Vienna has more than 100 museums. These include important collections of world renown as well as small establishments that impress with original exhibits. Artists of the century, such as Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, meet the stars of contemporary Vienna. One of the most visited museums in Vienna is Kunsthistorisches Museum. It is one of the foremost museums in the world, with rich holdings comprising artworks from seven millennia – from Ancient Egypt to the late 18th century. The collections of Renaissance and Baroque art are of particular importance.

It was the most successful exhibition ever hosted by the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna: “Bruegel – Once in a Lifetime” made history. On show from October 2018 through January 2019, the world’s largest-ever exhibition of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna houses twelve works by him, and thus the world’s largest and most important collection of paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The works include celebrated panels like Peasant WeddingChildren’s GamesHunters in the Snowand, of course, The Tower of Babel

The Leopold Museum, with around 6,000 works, houses one of the world’s most important collections of Austrian art from the second half of the nineteenth century and Modernism. As a couple, Rudolf and Elisabeth Leopold created this unique collection over the course of five decades. Their extraordinary passion for art enabled them to collect artists like Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt – who, up to the 1960s, were considered taboo.

With more than 220 works, they established the world’s most comprehensive Egon Schiele collection. Other highlights among the collection include major works by Gustav Klimt, Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka, and Alfred Kubin as well as works from artists of the nineteenth century such as Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, August von Pettenkofen, Emil Jakob Schindler, and Anton Romako. In keeping with a holistic concept of art, Rudolf Leopold also gathered furniture and decorative works from the Jugendstil and Wiener Werkstätte movements by the likes of such artists as Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, as well as objects from Africa, Oceania, and East Asia. In 1994 with the support of the Republic of Austria and the National Bank of Austria, a large portion of Rudolf Leopold’s private collection, which until then resided with the family among other art treasures, was introduced into the Leopold Museum Private Foundation. In 2001, the collection moved to the specially-founded Leopold Museum in the MuseumsQuartier. Today, the expansion of the collection is one of the central tasks of the Leopold Museum, which aims to broaden the focus of the collection beyond its core inventory.

The two Belvedere palaces were built in the early eighteenth century by the famous Baroque architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt to be used as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663–1736). One of Europe’s most stunning Baroque landmarks, this ensemble – comprising the Upper and Lower Belvedere and an extensive garden – is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today the Belvedere houses the greatest collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day, complemented by the work of international artists such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, and Max Beckmann. Highlights from the holdings Vienna 1880–1914 are the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s paintings (including the famous golden Art Nouveau icons the Kiss (Lovers) and Judith) and works by Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka. Key works of French Impressionism and the greatest collection of Viennese Biedermeier art are further attractions on display at the Upper Belvedere.

Lower Belvedere and the former Orangery are venues for top temporary exhibitions. These shows focus on presenting Austrian art in an international context, as defined in the Belvedere’s original mission back in 1903 (when it was founded as the Moderne Galerie. They comprise retrospective shows of Austrian artists, based on research into their work and significance, and major thematic exhibitions exploring key movements and epochs in art. An insight into medieval art can be gained at the Medieval Treasury, opened in 2007 at the former Palace Stables that once accommodated Prince Eugene’s personal horses. This study collection gives the public access to the Belvedere’s entire holdings of medieval art.

From Monet to Picasso: The Albertina Museum holds works by all of modern and contemporary art history’s great artists. And from French impressionism and fauvism to works of expressionist artist groups and the Russian avant-garde as well as numerous masterpieces by Picasso, Kiefer, and Lassnig, the Albertina Museum is home to all of the pioneering artistic ideas of the modern era and the present. 

The State Hall, the heart of the Austrian National Library, is one of the most beautiful library halls in the world. It is the biggest Baroque library in Europe. The former Court Library was created in the first half of the 18th century as a private wing of the Hofburg imperial residence. Emperor Karl VI. ordered its construction. The library was built by Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach according to plans of his father, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. The impressive state hall of the library is almost 80 m long and 20 m high and is crowned by a dome that is magnificently decorated with frescoes by the court painter Daniel Gran. More than 200,000 volumes are exhibited here, among them the comprehensive library of Prince Eugene of Savoy as well as one of the largest collections of Martin Luther’s writings.

The former summer residence of the Habsburgs impresses with imperial ceremonial rooms and magnificent gardens. Maria Theresa, Emperor Franz Joseph, Empress Elisabeth and others once resided here. Schönbrunn Palace is one of Europe’s most beautiful Baroque complexes and has been in the possession of the Habsburgs since 1569. The wife of Emperor Ferdinand II, Eleonore von Gonzaga, had a pleasure palace built on the site in 1642 and called the property “Schönbrunn” for the first time. The palace and garden complex created from 1696 onwards following the siege of Vienna was complete redesigned under Maria Theresa after 1743. Today, due to its historical significance, its unique layout and magnificent furnishings, the palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Emperor Franz Joseph was born in Schönbrunn Palace in 1830. The monarch spent the last years of his life here in their entirety. Schönbrunn Palace has a total of 1,441 rooms, 45 of which can be visited. The interiors are in the Rococo style. Mozart made music in the mirrored hall of Schönbrunn Palace as a six year-old prodigy. In the Round Chinese Cabinet, Maria Theresa held her secret conferences with State Chancellor Prince Kaunitz. Napoleon held conferences in the Vieux Lacque Room. And in the Blue Chinese Salon, Emperor Charles I signed his renunciation of government (end of the monarchy). The Millions Room, paneled with rosewood and decorated with valuable miniatures from India and Persia, ranks amongst the most beautiful Rococo rooms in existence.