The top floor of Upper Belvedere only has a few rooms, but uses them to show the transformation of Austrian (and European) art from the benevolent domesticity of Biedermeier painting to the modern era. As always at Belvedere, many bright jewels capture the eye.
- Selection of 19th and 20th-century art
- Gives you a quick overview of 150 years of largely Austrian art history
- Includes various works by such masters as Hundertwasser, Schiele, and Renoir
- The Belvedere is a dynamic museum, so the actual works on display may vary
- All info in English and German
- See also: Upper Belvedere exhibition overview
As with the other permanent exhibitions, the top floor at Belvedere uses each room to present a particular theme, whether a genre (e.g. Colour Expressionism) or a topic (e.g. Austria in Transition).
The works present a chronology, illustrating the evolution of styles in Austria from the gentle domestic scenes of the early 1800s through to abstract works of the 20th century. And some familiar names appear as you go around, both Austrian (e.g. Waldmüller or Schiele) and international (e.g. Manet and Monet).
(Homage to Jacquin by Johann Knapp, 1821-1822. Photo by Johannes Stoll and © Belvedere, Wien. Reproduced with permission under the terms of Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0.)
The wide scope of the exhibitions exceeds the ability of this ignorant writer to identify the approved highlights. But this is what grabbed my attention on my last visit.
Given the whirlpool of modern politics and the spiral of chaos we seem to find ourselves in, the paintings from the Biedermeier period exude a welcome tranquility.
In particular, Franz Eybl’s 1850 A Girl Reading projects a seemingly long-gone innocence. Though, of course, it’s all illusory, as shown in the single counterpoint to the happy domestic scenes on display: Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller’s 1854 Exhausted Strength. A single mother lies barely visible on a darkened floor beside her child’s cot…a pinch of realism in the Biedermeier art world.
Johann Knapp’s 1822 painting Homage to Jacquin is both beautiful and full of science, featuring plants from all 24 classes of the Linnaean system for categorising species. One or two animals sneak into the picture, too, including a cockatoo with an attitude.
(I may be biased as a biology graduate.)
Transition and 20th century
This floor also exemplifies the marked change in pace, tone and style as art modernises. A few examples:
- Anton Romako’s 1878-1880 painting of Admiral Tegetthoff in the naval battle of Lissa I, where the Admiral stares out of the painting unperturbed, while those around him run a gamut of emotion, from determination to abject fear
- A little patch of France with paintings by the impressionists. For example, Claude Monet’s 1882 The Chef, Édouard Manet’s 1880 Lady in a Fur, and Pierre Auguste Renoir’s 1876 After the Bath
- Oskar Laske’s 1923 The Ship of Fools, populated by hundreds of figures that reminded me of a Bosch or Bruegel; lose yourself in the details and individual scenes on the ship
It doesn’t take long to zip around the few rooms, but it’s a nice little foray through art history and offers a breather from the crowds that often accumulate one floor down in the Klimt galleries.
And if the later years of this part of Belvedere’s art interest you, can I recommend you consider popping across town to the Albertina, too? The permanent exhibition there features works by the likes of Picasso, Cézanne, Matisse, Degas, Miró, Magritte, and many more of that ilk.