Pieter Bruegel the Elder is a rarity in the art world, thanks to the groundbreaking nature of his 16th-century art and the scarcity of major exhibitions of his works. Which makes the exhibition at Vienna’s Art History Museum (the Kunsthistorisches Museum or KHM) all the more special.
- Unique, large exhibition with around 30 paintings and 60 other works by Bruegel
- Runs Oct 2, 2018 to Jan 13, 2019
- Adult tickets to the museum with the exhibition cost €20 (or free with a Vienna Pass*) but appropriate timeslots may not be available for your trip/visit
- Update: Although the exhibition is over, you can see the various Bruegel paintings owned by the museum in Saal X of its picture galleries from 31 January, 2019
- See also: Kunsthistorisches Museum
What’s it all about
Pieter Bruegel the Elder is one of the icons of art history…a trendsetter if you like, a pioneer of genre painting, a nose-tweaker of the self-styled elites, and possibly the most important of the Dutch/Flemish renaissance painters. So you’d think there would have been quite a few major exhibitions of his work.
Trouble is, a large Bruegel exhibition is extremely difficult to put together. Firstly, there isn’t all too much of his art around. Secondly, museums and other owners are inevitably reluctant to loan out crowd-pulling pieces of such value (and age). Yet somehow, the KHM has persuaded over 25 of them to do so.
In curating the first-ever large monographic exhibition of his work, the KHM is truly breaking new ground.
The museum already has 12 Bruegel’s, the biggest in-house collection in the world (one of the advantages of having an Imperial dynasty doing your collecting). This special exhibition displays 90 pieces, including around 75% of all his surviving paintings. So you can truly grasp the full scope of his creative genius and journey. The comprehensiveness of the exhibition also allows themed works to be brought together for the first time in centuries.
Among the highlights:
- The 1565 “Hay Harvest” painting from the Lobkowicz collection in Prague
- The remorselessly fascinating 1562 “Triumph of Death” painting from Madrid’s Prado museum
- Both paintings of the Tower of Babel, one from the KHM itself, the other from Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
- Rather delightfully, one area features physical items (clothes, coins, candlesticks, kitchen equipment etc.) you can find in the painting, “The Fight Between Carnival and Lent”
Along with the paintings and drawings, the exhibition also reveals the latest results from the museum’s imaging tests, pigment analyses, and other research into Bruegel’s techniques.
It’s all timed to coincide with the 450th anniversary of Bruegel’s death in Brussels in 1569. (Incidentally, Brussels was under the rule of the Spanish branch of the Habsburgs back then. Some of the paintings make it clear what Bruegel thought of their rule.)
Dates, tickets & tips
Tuesday, 2nd October 2018 to Sunday, 13th January 2019. During the exhibition, the KHM opens daily from 10 am to 6 pm (9 pm on Thursdays).
You need a special ticket to access the exhibition, which you can buy online (if not sold out) from the KHM (€20 for adults, with concessions). You have to specify the time and day you’ll be going in. Open-time “skip the line” tickets may be available but are more expensive. Another option is the Vienna Pass sightseeing ticket* for visitors, which gets you in for free, though you will still need to find and book an appropriate time slot for the exhibition (and appropriate timeslots may well be sold out).
All details, prices etc. are available from the special exhibition website. Quick tips:
- Note that the audioguide is available in English (and nine other languages)
- There’s an English-language booklet which you can borrow with descriptions of the paintings (and a spiral-bound version in large print)
- When I went it was very busy. If you want a good look at the exhibits, then you’ll need patience and time
- If you do have time after the Bruegel exhibition, the same building houses many other collections worth browsing. My favourite is the Kunstkammer chamber of wonders.
How to get to the Bruegel exhibition
The KHM is easily accessible alongside the giant Ring boulevard that encircles the city centre.
Subway: Take the U2 or U3 to the “Volkstheater”
Tram: Take lines D, 71, 46, 49 or 2 to “Ring/Volkstheater”
Bus: Line 48A to “Ring/Volkstheater”
Address: Burgring 7, 1010 Vienna | Website