1902 saw the Secession group of artists hold an exhibition in Vienna in honour of Beethoven. I’m not sure the composer would have liked the contemporary art on display, but he’d certainly have enjoyed the sentiment behind the tribute.
One of the highlights of the exhibition, alongside Max Klinger’s Beethoven statue, was Gustav Klimt’s Beethovenfries (the Beethoven Frieze) – a monumental wall painting now considered one of Klimt’s most iconic works.
- Huge wall painting by Gustav Klimt with instantly recognisable motifs and designs
- On display at the Secession, an art gallery open to the public
What can you see?
The Secession building hosted the Beethoven exhibition and is where you’ll still find Klimt’s Frieze. This continuity hides a rather chequered history for the work, though.
Originally located on the main floor, the Frieze was purchased by a private collector, cut into transportable pieces, removed, sold, confiscated by the Nazis, given back, sold again, and only returned to its current basement location in 1986. There it covers three sides of the room, roughly 14m by 14m by 6m, and is just over 2m high.
The artwork is owned by the state and is officially on loan from the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere (who also have The Kiss in their Belvedere collection).
I’m no art expert, but it’s kind of fascinating to sit on one of the benches and cast your eyes around the walls, picking out colours and motifs that seem so familiar if you’ve spent more than five minutes in Klimt’s company.
So there’s the gold, blue and other colours, the female forms, the geometric patterns. But also a few surprises (to the artistically uneducated like me, at any rate). For example, a gorilla-like monster that looks like something from Maurice Sendak’s illustrations in “Where the Wild Things Roam”.
This “monster” is actually Typhon, a serpentine giant from Greek mythology, standing next to the three Gorgons and other female representations of such things as death, insanity and wantonness. As one does.
The female figure “Nagende Kummer”, on the same wall as Typhon, seems straight out of Egon Schiele’s studio, even down to the positions of the fingers on the hands. But since Schiele was about 12 when the Beethoven Frieze was completed, that might be a clue as to one of Schiele’s sources of inspiration.
I will embarrassingly admit that the most enjoyable part of viewing the work was listening to the better informed (than me) art students and experts discuss it all. I felt like lighting a pretend Gauloise cigarette and assuming a thoughtful pose while imaginary smoke curled up around me. But I didn’t.
Check the separate article on the Secession building for opening times, entrance prices etc.
- At the time of writing (early 2018), the Frieze was only accessible via stairs, but a lift has since been installed if you’re concerned about wheelchair access etc.
- Be aware that there is no separate entrance ticket for the Frieze. You need a standard ticket that also gets you into the Secession’s contemporary art exhibitions. Is it worth it? For fleeting visitors, it’s an expensive dip into Klimt’s work. For Klimt and art fans, it is most definitely worth it
How to find the Beethoven Frieze
Again, see the Secession article for details. Suffice to say, it’s easy to find. The building is not far from the centre and right next to one of Vienna’s biggest transport hubs – the Karlsplatz subway station.
Address: Friedrichstraße 12, 1010 Vienna (website)