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.
- World-leading collection of Klimt paintings
- Also masterpieces by the likes of Schiele, Rodin, and Makart
- Thematic galleries make for an educational experience
- All information in English and German
- The Belvedere is a dynamic museum, so the actual works on display may change slightly
- See also: Upper Belvedere exhibition overview
The gallery rooms displaying the Vienna around 1900 and Klimt collections curl around the first floor of Upper Belvedere palace from the staircase to the great Marble Hall.
Each gallery presents a theme, reflected in the choice of art displayed within. One theme might be the Secession movement, another psychological expressionism (this is where you know there’s some serious art ahead).
The collection takes you through Viennese art at the turn of the century with a significant focus on the works of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.
Most visitors to Belvedere congregate in this part of the palace, so you may find quite a few others browsing the art with you.
Such an extraordinary exhibition makes it hard to pick out the highlights. But here goes my feeble effort as a non-expert…
(The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. Photo courtesy of and © Belvedere, Wien. Reproduced with permission under the terms of Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Nowhere in the world can offer Klimt quite like the Belvedere. I counted 16 paintings in passing on my last visit, though a nice golden painting tucked away in one room caught my particular attention.
Actually, you’ll likely spot The Kiss through the numerous smartphones held in front of it. There is something decidedly thrilling about standing so close to such an iconic and world-famous image.
The painting stands within a stark, black frame, 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.
Other works by Klimt also deserve your attention, though. His wonderful Judith from 1901, for example, casts her arrogant eyes across one room.
The galleries allow you to trace the evolution of Klimt’s style from elegant portraiture (e.g. 1897/1898’s Sonja Krips), through to portraits with abstract elements (e.g. 1906’s Fritza Riedler), impressionist landscapes (e.g. 1907’s Flowering Poppies) and, of course, The Kiss.
Tip: if you want to find other Klimt works in Vienna, see this guide.
Belvedere hosts some of Schiele’s best work, including The Embrace, Death and the Maiden, and The Family – the latter a moving self-portrait painted just months before his death in 1918 from Spanish flu; the expressions on the faces suggest that Schiele and his wife almost seem to know what’s coming.
Tip: if you’re interested in Schiele, Vienna’s Leopold Museum houses the world’s biggest collection of his paintings and drawings. They also cover the Viennese Modernism movement in some detail, so a visit complements this Belvedere collection rather nicely.
And the rest…
The other works read like a who’s who of Austrian and international art in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Names like Rodin, Edvard Munch, Max Klinger, Vincent van Gogh, Koloman Moser, Oskar Kokoschka, Max Kurzweil, Hans Makart, Richard Gerstl, and many more.
My personal highlights:
- The musical connection: Max Klinger’s 1907 bronze of Beethoven and Rodin’s 1909 bust of Gustav Mahler (not the only Rodin on display, incidentally – look for his Eve statue with its astonishing sense of movement and emotion)
- The French connection: Van Gogh’s 1890 The Plain of Anvers, originally shown at the 1903 impressionism exhibition hosted by the Secession
These are just my quick highlights. As you can tell, this section of Belvedere is a treasure trove for those interested in that period of creative brilliance that was Viennese painting around 1900. And, frankly, seeing The Kiss is worth the entrance ticket alone.
Incidentally, the room that once housed a library offers a peek down onto a small balcony that itself looks over the Belvedere chapel. The latter is small in size, but big on Baroque splendour…rich in white, gold and brown marble.
The balcony would be where Belvedere’s owner (Prince Eugene) could enjoy services privately.
Piety is all well and good, but you wouldn’t want to get cold while saying your prayers – the balcony had its own fireplace to add a little warmth to religious proceedings.
This private space also meant, of course, that Eugene needn’t mix with the rabble below and could, presumably, throw fruit at itinerant members of his household staff if he got bored. (There is no historical evidence to suggest that he did this. But I bet he thought about it.)