When it comes to artists in Vienna, Gustav Klimt appears to rule. Gustav Klimt ( 1862-1918), an Austrian symbolist painter, is especially famous for his masterpiece “The Kiss.” It currently hangs in Vienna’s Belvedere Museum which has an extensive collection of art from the Middle Ages to the present, and one of the largest collections of paintings by Gustav Klimt in the world.
The Belvedere Palace
The historic Belvedere Palace, a beautiful, baroque building complex which now houses the Belvedere Museum, was built in 1714. It was the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, a commander-in-chief in the army of the Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburg dynasty.
It was an interesting challenge finding the palace via public transportation. Signs to this celebrated UNESCO World Heritage site were non-existent at the nearby U-Bahn station which was buried in an old residential neighborhood.
The line at the ticket booth was relatively short. The friendly ticket agent told me I was lucky to get into the museum immediately. During the summer that seldom happens. Traveling off season has it advantages.
Once inside the museum, it wasn’t too difficult to find Gustav Klimt’s celebrated artwork, “The Kiss.” I just followed the crowds. Getting close enough to examine the wonderful golden details of his painting was another matter.
One piece of history that made the Belvedere Museum and its connection to Gustav Klimt of great interest to me was the fascinating story of the restitution of another of Klimt’s masterpieces, “The Lady in Gold.” It was stolen by the Nazi’s from a Jewish family during WWII, and subsequently acquired by the Belvedere Museum, eventually becoming one the museum’s most revered paintings. Following years of litigation, the painting now hangs in the Neue Gallery in New York.
This piece of Austria’s WWII history, which was undercover for over half a century, is now addressed with a sign at the museum, albeit a rather small sign, given the magnitude of the issues surrounding it.
Due to it being off season, no flowers were blooming in the famous gardens, and water was not streaming from the beautiful fountains. But the views of the palace and grounds made up for it. A stunning wrought-iron entrance gate reminded me of similar gates at the entrance to some of the iconic, Guilded Age mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, where I live.
The Secession Museum
I stumbled onto the Secession Museum quite by chance as I left the nearby Naschmarkt one afternoon (see previous posting). I hadn’t seriously searched it out yet, but was glad the search was no longer necessary. Little did I know at the outset of the day that I would end it listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony while enjoying the stunning artwork of Klimt’s Beethoven Freeze.
Gustav Klimt was one of the founders of the celebrated Vienna Secession in 1897. The movement was formed by a group of Austrian rebel artists who had resigned from the long-established fine art institution of the Association of Austrian Artists.
The stark, dramatic lines of the Secession building were a dramatic contrast to the 19th century historic neighborhood surrounding it. For me the highlight of this museum was Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze. It encircled a room, which was dedicated to this treasure, like a wide cornice around the top edge of the walls.
When I walked into the room I was handed a wireless headset in which Beethoven’s Finale-Symphony No. 9 was playing. The combination of Klimt’s thought-provoking paintings, along with the drama of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, was intoxicating. Everyone in the room seemed lost in the world of music and art, taking no notice of passers-by. I quickly got into the same mode.
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