What are the world’s most famous paintings? Good question.
All I can say is when you reach the first floor on the grand staircase of Upper Belvedere palace, you are just a few steps from one of them: Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss.
© Belvedere, Wien
But let us not get ahead of ourselves.
The eight gallery rooms displaying the Vienna 1900 and Klimt collections curl around the first floor from the staircase to the great Marble Hall. And they have other treats for the inquisitive visitor.
So what are the highlights here?
Egon Schiele: rooms 1/2:
The first room not only has its original Baroque ceiling, but also your first original Klimt – Family – painted in 1909/1910.
But Klimt is not the only famous name here, with works by Oskar Kokoschka, Richard Gerstl and, particularly, Egon Schiele (who gets a room all to himself).
If you’re interested in Schiele, Vienna’s Leopold Museum houses the world’s biggest collection of his paintings, drawings etc.. Belvedere also hosts some of his best work, including The embrace, Death and the maiden and The family – a self-portrait painted just months before his death from Spanish flu. (The expressions on the faces of Schiele and his wife seem to know what’s coming.)
Klimt: rooms 3/4/5
Room 3 is where Klimt begins in earnest, with six paintings with floral and landscape themes. It can be hard to concentrate here, though, given the loud whooshing noises made by the majority of visitors rushing past to reach The Kiss in the next room.
© Belvedere, Wien
Room 4 is where you’ll find the Klimt portraits – ten of them (Belvedere has the world’s biggest collection of Klimt oil paintings). Judith and The Kiss are at the two ends and it pays to tease your way up the walls between the two, not least in fascination at the different styles and techniques employed by Klimt through time.
Even as someone who can barely spell art, let along understand it, the comparison between his Art Nouveau material and the photo-like quality of 1894’s Portrait of a woman (which was in the next room on my last visit) is astonishing.
And then there is The Kiss itself, standing in isolation on a stark, black wall, pulling your eyes around its component parts. If Austria ever runs up too much public debt, this one painting alone might clear it for them.
You can’t take photos with a flash, which can lead to some glum looks.
However, off to the left is the Marble Cabinet room, which we’d now call the Selfie room. It features the original white and gold decor and the usual Belvedere martial gilded motifs – all swords and helmets. There’s a reproduction of The Kiss where you can take photos as you like.
Around 1900: rooms 6/7/8
The remaining rooms until you reach the Marble Hall feature a mix of artists, mostly from the late 1800s. Names like Arnold Böcklin, Max Klinger, Vincent Van Gogh, Hans Makart, Fernand Khnopff, Carl Moll and Akseli Kallela.
My personal highlights here:
- Klinger’s The judgement of Paris thanks to the sculpted enhancements that frame this large piece
- Edvard Munch’s The painter Paul Hermann and the doctor Paul Contard from 1897. Neither of the subjects are screaming or looking even vaguely perturbed
- Makart’s Venice Pays Homage to Caterina Cornaro from ca. 1872, a huge canvas with a historical painting that contrasts markedly with the more abstract imaginings of Schiele and Klimt