1902 saw the Secession group of artists hold an exhibition in Vienna in honour of Beethoven. 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.
(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: Klimt in Vienna
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.)
The Secession building hosted the Beethoven exhibition and you’ll still find Klimt’s Frieze there. Back in 1902, the work met with a mixed reception. According to one newspaper report (my translation):
Klimt’s frescoes stirred up both a storm of indignation and exultation from visitors
The Frieze then 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 if 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 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.
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, you can find a Klinger bust of Beethoven (from 1907) in the same Belvedere permanent exhibition that showcases The Kiss.
Tickets & visitor tips
Check the separate article on the Secession building for entrance prices etc..
- To see the Frieze, you just need a standard ticket that also gets you into the Secession’s contemporary art exhibitions. For Klimt and art fans, it is most definitely worth it. For casual visitors, it’s a relatively expensive dip into Klimt’s work.
- At the time of my visit, you could only access the Frieze via stairs, but a lift has since been installed if you’re concerned about wheelchair access etc.
- The Beethovenfries (or a copy, at least) 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