1902 saw the Secession group of artists hold an exhibition in Vienna in honour of Beethoven. One of the highlights, 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.
(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.)
- Huge wall painting by Gustav Klimt with instantly recognisable motifs and designs
- On display at the Secession, an art gallery open to the public
- See also:
What can you see?
(Photo courtesy of and © Belvedere, Wien. Reproduced with permission under the terms of Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Back in 1902, Klimt’s Frieze met with a mixed reception when it appeared in the Beethoven exhibition. According to one newspaper report at the time (my translation):
Klimt’s frescoes stirred up both a storm of indignation and exultation from visitors
The Secession building hosted the exhibition and, remarkably, still houses the Beethovenfries today. However, Klimt’s creation went on a rather tumultuous journey before its eventual return “home”.
A private collector apparently purchased the work, cut it into transportable pieces, and removed it to decorate a purpose-built room at the buyer’s new palais.
The Frieze was later 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.
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 once you’ve spent more than five minutes in Klimt’s company.
So you have 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. (We’ve all been to parties like that.)
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 first appeared, that might be a clue to one of his sources of inspiration.
Klimt himself likely drew his inspiration for the Beethoven Frieze from the work of Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh and the Glasgow Four, which he would have seen at a Secession exhibition in 1900.
The connection between Klimt and Macdonald Mackintosh featured, for example, in the 2023 Klimt. Inspired by… exhibition at Lower Belvedere.
Incidentally, the Max Klinger statue that accompanied Klimt’s work at the original 1902 exhibition now sits in Leipzig’s Museum of Fine Arts. However, the same Belvedere permanent exhibition that showcases The Kiss usually has a bust of Beethoven by Klinger from 1907.
Tickets & visitor tips
Check the separate article on the Secession building for visitor info, but…
- To see the Frieze, you just need a standard entrance ticket for the Secession. This also gets you into the contemporary art exhibitions that might be on at any one time.
- A lift takes you down to the basement to view the Frieze, if you’re concerned about wheelchair access etc.
You might also see the Beethovenfries (or a copy, at least) on your TV. It makes a fleeting appearance in Episode 1 of the Vienna Blood period detective series set in turn-of-the-century Vienna.
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