The impressive art exhibited at the Austrian (Österreichische) Gallery Upper Belvedere Palace is superb! Views of central Vienna and the palace gardens are equally stunning.
The permanent Klimt exhibition initially drew me to the gallery, but I discovered so much more during the visit. This post shares some of the paintings I found especially interesting – there were many! It was an educational day, and several of the artists in the exhibition were new to me. There’s so much to do and see in Vienna. I may revisit Österreichische Gallery to learn more about the spectacular Baroque Belvedere Palaces.
Upper and Lower Palaces
Situated on a sloping hill, the Belvedere complex consists of two separate palaces linked by a garden. There are three buildings on the grounds. The Upper (Oberes) Palace was built between 1717 and 1723, “as the purely ceremonial residence of military genius, Prince Eugene of Savoy”. Later, the palace became the home of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose 1914 assassination in Sarajevo precipitated WWI.
The Lower (Unteres) Palace was built in 1712 as a “functional residence”, but it also contains art exhibitions. Some of the work on display includes “decorations and paintings of military achievements and battles fought by Prince Eugene“.
The palaces are separated by formal French-style gardens on three levels. The gardens were designed by landscape architect Dominique Girard. Each level conveys a “classical allusion”. The lower garden represents the four classical elements (air, earth, fire, water), the center is characteristic of Parnassus (Greek mountain sacred to Apollo and the goddess muses), and the upper section exemplifies Olympus (mythical mountain home of the twelve ancient Greek gods).
Female sphinxes with human heads and lion bodies guard the upper section of Belvedere Garden. They symbolize “power and strength paired with human insight”.
The third building in the complex, Belvedere 21, is unrelated to the Upper and Lower Baroque palaces. It was originally the Austrian pavilion at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels. Designed by Karl Schwanzer, the building was awarded the Grand Prix d’Architecture, and is considered an “architectural icon of post-war modernism“.
The pavilion was “rebuilt in Vienna’s Schweizergarten (Swiss Garden) and opened in 1962 as Austria’s Museum of the 20th Century”. In 2002, after the Modern Museum (mumok) moved to Vienna’s new gallery, MuseumsQuartier, Belvedere 21 was gifted to the palace complex.
The Sala Terrena (ground floor) entrance to Upper Belvedere is a “large, brilliant white lobby with a stucco ceiling and sculpted pillars”. Atlases supporting the vaulted ceiling were added to “address structural damage suffered in 1732/33”. The entrance hall leads to the Grand Staircase and garden side of Upper Belvedere.
The Grand Staircase is “adorned with stucco reliefs depicting the triumph of Alexander the Great over Persian King Darius III in the Battle of Issus”. The staircase is surrounded by wrought-iron lamps that were used for greeting visitors arriving at the palace by carriage.
The octagonal Palace Chapel is largely “preserved in its original condition,” as seen in a drawing by architect Salomon Kleiner. Entrance into the chapel isn’t allowed for gallery visitors, but mass is held every Sunday at 12 noon. I took a photo from the art gallery above.
Spectacular Marble Hall dates back to the 1700s. It’s two storeys tall, and the windows are a perfect vantage point for admiring the garden. Gallery visitors flock there to take panoramic photos of the garden with a gorgeous Viennese cityscape in the distance. The ceiling frescoes are marvelous, and another special thing about Marble Hall is that in 1955, the allies met there to sign a treaty giving Austria its freedom after the post-WWII occupation.
Like the chapel, some of the rooms at Belvedere Palace have copies of Salomon Kleiner engravings from the 1730s. The unique etchings illustrate the “original design, decoration, and function” of each room in the palace.
Curated summary panels and sub names of exhibitions throughout the palace were slightly confusing to me. Continuous displays at Upper Belvedere Palace include:
- History of Belvedere – Ground Floor
- Medieval Masterpieces
- Klimt and Vienna around 1900
- Baroque and Beyond
- Biedermeier, Realism/Impressionism, and the Interwar Period
Gustav Klimt Permanent Exhibition
Klimt’s work The Kiss (Lovers) is the most famous painting in the exhibition and the “highlight of the Upper Belvedere collection”. The painting “shows an entwined couple in a lush flowery meadow on a hillside, draped in richly decorated robes”. Klimt produced the painting in 1907-1908, during what is known as his “Golden Period,” when he “developed the new technique of creatively combining gold leaf with oil and bronze paint”. His goal was to “allegorically make a general statement about love as a central theme of human life”. The symbols, patterns, and colors Klimt uses are widely analyzed in the art world. He was inspired by Van Gogh, Rodin, and Matisse.
In the beautiful painting, the lovers’ robes are decorated with gold leaf, and the background is interspersed with fine gold, silver, and platinum leaves”. In 1908, the “Austrian State bought the painting for the Modern Gallery,” and it’s been part of the Belvedere inventory since.
“There’s an undercurrent beneath Klimt’s landscapes which speak of an individual who had concerns about the direction of nature at that time, specifically man’s treatment of it.” gustavklimt.net
Although Klimt’s paintings of female subjects may be the most popular, some of my favorites are his delicate, detailed landscapes, which are even more impressive viewed in person. Throughout the gallery, his work is interspersed with other masters and themed paintings categorized under the broad title, Klimt and Vienna Around 1900. The exhibition includes works by Schiele, Rodin, Makart, and others.
Categories in the exhibition focus on “thematically organized galleries reflecting Austria’s history and identity”. The fabulous paintings speak for themselves, but a more detailed breakdown of subcategories includes the following motifs visibly reflected throughout the gallery:
- Dream and Reality
- Color and Expression
- Psychological Expressionism
- Summer in the Countryside
- The Secession
- Life and Society
- True to Life
- Faces of Society
- Capturing the World
- Withdrawal and Reflection
- Unseen Labor
- The Things of Life
“Landscape painting offered Gustav an opportunity to avoid directed commissions and take more control of his work. It also enabled the artist to escape to the countryside, and abroad.” gustavklimt.net
Modernism, Middle Ages, Baroque, Post WWII
The Upper Belvedere collection includes “landmark pieces of Viennese Modernism by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Broncia Koller-Pinell, and Helene Funke” – many new names for me. The exhibition also contains the “most comprehensive collection of paintings by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller from the Viennese Biedermeier Era”. Everything in the gallery is blended together with Austrian art from the Middle Ages and Baroque Period, including works by Claude Monet, Elena Luksch-Makowsky, Vincent van Gogh, and Auguste Rodin!
Georg Eisler Exhibition
The George Eisler exhibition, IN-SIGHT, focuses on the works of this Viennese artist whose paintings are “inspired by life itself“. Eisler “struggled tirelessly to capture memorable moments in a spontaneous and effortless fashion“. The exhibition “demonstrates how compellingly and enduringly he achieved this” in his paintings.
“Since the beginning of 2018, the Belvedere has been working on a catalogue raisonné of Georg Eisler’s work in collaboration with the Georg and Alice Eisler Fund for Artists and Composers.”
The exhibition focuses on the “sometimes-explosive themes of Eisler’s images that testify to the artist’s critical analysis of the everyday, political, and social“. Eisler “placed human beings at the heart of his work”.
In 1936, after his parents divorced, he moved to Moscow with his mother. Because of the war, Eisler was prevented from returning to Vienna, so he lived in Prague, Birmingham, and London, and became friends with poet Erich Fried and painter Oskar Kokoschka. Eisler’s first exhibition of Austrian art was in London. In 1946, he eventually returned to an allied-occupied Vienna in ruins.
His first solo exhibition in Vienna was in 1958, and he won the Austrian State Prize for Painting in 1965. Eisler received the Prize of the City of Vienna for Painting, and the Austrian Medal for Science and Art. In 1998, Georg Eisler died from cancer and was buried in a grave of honor by the City of Vienna.
It was another great day exploring and learning in Vienna!