Vienna (Wien, pronounced as a single syllable, veen) has a lot of museums. The major art museums are all within ten minutes walk of the opera house (home of the Wien Staatsopera). The biggest and most-encompassing across time and space is the Kunsthistoriches (art history) across the Ringstrasse from the Hapsburg palace (Hofburg) and next to its twin on the Maria-Theresien-Platz, the Naturhistoriches (Natural History) Museum. These museums house the Hapsburg emperors’ collections.
Modernist Viennese art is abundantly on display at the Leopold and Albertina Museums (and the Sezession gallery, each of which is about a five minute walk away, where Klimt’s Beethoven friezes are) and the Upper Belvedere Palace (which is about a ten minutes walk away). There is a Klimt mural in the grand stairway of the Kunsthistoriches, but its collection of paintings ends with baroque art.
The main Kunsthistoriches building includes extensive Egyptian, Assyrian, ancient Greek, and ancient Roman art with a profusion of Roman marble portrait busts and Roman bronze copies of Greek statues. The glory of the museum, the “picture gallery,” includes a room of mostly very large paintings by Peter Brueghel (Pieter Bruegel) the Elder (including the very famous one of the 1563 painting “Tower of Babel”). This room has more than a third of the extant Brueghel paintings. There is another room with very large paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, and nearly a room of Rembrandts. There are also multiple great paintings by Albrecht Dürer, Titian, and Raphael, three great Caravaggios, an engaging Frans Hals painting (Portrait of a young man, ca. 1640), several striking Tintorento, Giorgione and Bellini paintings, one Vermeer (The Art of Painting, 1666), one fairly bland Hieronymous Bosch painting, almost a room of Hans Holbein the Younger (the most famous one being a portrait of Catherine Howard, the third wife of Henry VIII), a room of paintings by Anthony van Dyck.
Usually, there are some Velázquez paintings, including Prince Philip Proper and the Infanta Margarita Teresa, on display. They are currently on loan to the Prado (as if the Prado needed more Velázquez paintings!). Also not on display was a famous Mantegna St. Sebastian. It is, perhaps, still on tour. I saw it in San Francisco with some other works sent out while galleries were being redone at the Kunsthistoriches. The Kunsthistoriches does not seem to own any paintings by El Greco, who was a Hapsburg subject (living in Spain). (Goya was post-Hapsburg rule of Spain).
The labels for the antiquities are only in German (and generally not terribly helpful: “Man in a helmet,” for instance). The major paintings, that is, the ones displayed one at a time (not in layers as in two rooms of Baroque era display of baroque paintings), have information (not just titles) in German and in English.
Through 1 December, there is a very large Lucian Freud (1922-2011) retrospective. Though I find his large paintings of lumpy nudes generally repellant, I was surprised that at the start of his career (Man with a White Feather, 1943) he painted with smaller brushes with some of the flattening characteristic of the Viennese modernist (Sezession) artists or Chiroco.
Admission to the Kunsthistoriches, includes admission to collections of armor and of music instruments, and the Ephesosmuseum, which contains materials excavated in the 19th century from Ephesus. (These are housed in the palace across the Ringstrasse; entrance inside the building is to the right of entrance to the National Library). A The Ephesus Parthenon frieze rivals the Athenian one (in the British Museum) in extent… and is similarly eroded. (It is Roman, rather than Greek. And the 40 meters on display are supplemented by another 30 meters not on display!) There is a marble sculpture of an Amazon from an altar of/to Artemis (the Artemis figure is in the archeological museum at Ephesus), and a bronze (Roman copy of a Greek original) nude male athlete given pride of place.
The Belvedere Palaces (in addition to the upper and lower palaces, there is a Winter Palace, which should have reopened by now). I don’t much care about art collected by Prince Eugen of Savoy (1663-1736) or that added by Hapsburg emperors and empresses (notably Maria Theresa). I was struck by a 1866 Corot bearded wounded man, too (I didn’t want to be him, nor probably to have him either) and the Nemisee (1843). The main art draw is a large collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt, including the most famous one, “The Kiss,” and a number of paintings by Egon Schiele. The lower palace includes a room of gilded mirrors (the gold room) and a large fountain taken indoors. The orangery has temporary exhibits. I was underwhelmed by the current one. The formal garden between upper and lower palaces rivals Versailles.
What most stimulated me to revisit Vienna is The Leopold Museum, which opened in 2001. I had not realized that the collection was assembled starting in the mid-1950s, though had I checked the lifedates of Rudolf Leopold (1925-2010), it would have been obvious that he did not know Klimt or Schiele, both of whom died in 1918
The basement of the Leopold Museum is having something of a Kokochska retrospective. There are a number of paintings of his, but many more photos. The man definitely did a lot of publicity! I liked some of his cityscapes (Amsterdam) well enough, and his bitter see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil painting protesting the Anschluss (when Austria voluntarily joined Hitler’s Reich).
I much prefer the three rooms of Schiele (it’s hard to conceive that he was four years younger than Kokoschka (1886-1980), having died at the age of 28. The Leopold has less than two rooms of Klimt, including full-scale reproductions of three of his university murals that burned in 1945 bombings. I especially like Schiele’s cityscapes and self-portraits plus his 1912 embrace (Cardinal and nun), a 1912 Johanssen tited “diving board” but looking to me like a sort of Narcissus gazing into a pool in which he does not see his own reflections. And from Deutschland, a 1912 set of female nudes by Leon Kirchner.
The Monet to Picasso permanent collection at the Albertina Museum is not on display. The Matisse and the Fauves show is heavily advertised around town and had more visitors than the Leopold, which supposedly has become the most visited Vienna museum. The special exhibit made me appreciate the fauve-period Derain more than ever before and I liked some Vlamincks. There were paintings on loan from the Milwaukee Museum, the Hermitage, and two from the US National Gallery, which is currently closed due to tea party zealots back home.
There was a wall of Schiele works on paper, including the artist in an orange coat with no pants. Plus some Dürer and Michelangelo and Raphael drawings, parquetwork and lots of porcelain stoves with no chimney attachments (probably when they were in use they had them).
The uppermost floor was occupied with the work of Gottfriend Helnwein (1948-), not a single one of which I liked. There was a statement from him that he could not image committing violence against children, though almost all of his work represents that. There were some big post-WWII pieces in the basement that I liked more, though Schiele and Derain carried the day. A “Dreaming Russia” show opened after my visit, but did not look especially inviting.
Both the Kunsthistoriches and what used to be the Museum of Ethnology have modernized their displays (better lighting, bilingual signage) since I first visited them during the late-1980s. The latter had topical mishmashes of objects (e.g., featherwork from here and there) in cabinets. Renamed this April as Weltmuseum (World Museum or Musem of the World), since 2001 the collections have been in the first building (coming off the Ringstrasse) inside the gate of the Hofburg (officially, the Corps de Logis of the Neue Burg).
The Weltmuseum has five famous collections:
– the ‘Ancient Mexican treasures’
– the ‘Benin Bronzes’
– the James Cook collection (South Sea and North America)
– the Natterer collection (Brazil)
– the Siebold collection (from Japan),
none of which was on display this month. After two rooms of Amazonian artifacts, the “welt” was reduced to Asia (including Japan and Indonesia) with a large exhibition on dance forms and costumes on the first floor, and Gultekin Tetik’s photographs presentday (Kurdish) city of Diyarbakir/Amed (on the Tigris) along with a video about its extensive history (going back 2,000 years to Neolithic, including Hurrian, Assyrian, Parthian,Roman, Persian, Jewish, Syraic Christian, Ummayad, and Turkish).
The extensive exhibition on dance artifacts from Asia and nearby archipelagos was interesting, and included a performance by a Chinese dancer. I recall being little impressed by the Cook collection, but was disappointed not to be able to see the world’s premier collection of Benin bronzes and the other African stuff the museum owns. About half the galleries were closed, and presumably will reopen sometime.