The official colours of Vienna are red and white. The unofficial ones are black and gold, the colours most associated with Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, a truly iconic painting and perhaps the city’s greatest art treasure.
- Klimt’s most popular work, painted 1907-1908
- On permanent display at the Upper Belvedere Palace
- Belvedere opens daily but is hugely popular most of the year, so book a timeslot or go early
- See also: Dürer’s Young Hare | Best art in Vienna
(Photo courtesy of and © Belvedere, Wien. Reproduced with permission under the terms of Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Klimt’s The Kiss seems to be everywhere in Vienna. It’s slowly taking over the souvenir shops. And anything Klimt-related usually has the painting front and centre.
I’m no art expert, so won’t wax lyrical on the meaning or composition of the work itself. Suffice to say that The Kiss has caught the imagination of the world.
Experts consider the 1907/1908 painting to be the most iconic example of Austria’s Art Nouveau period. But its fame and status has long gone global.
The work first appeared in public at a 1908 exhibition organised around Klimt and colleagues; the “Kunstschau” featured many of the stalwarts of the Wiener Moderne movement. Among the paintings on display and for sale: a composition by Klimt named the Lovers (the original title for The Kiss).
Such a painting deserves a mysterious and troubled history of purchases, with the occasional theft thrown in for good measure. I fear the reality is far more banal.
The Ministry of Education bought the picture (the ministry’s remit at the time also included culture) for the state’s Moderne Galerie collection at Lower Belvedere palace in Vienna. And that was more or less it, because it’s still at Belvedere.
Klimt already has a couple of less-iconic works in the list of the World’s Top 20 most expensive painting sales, so you can only begin to imagine how much The Kiss is worth.
You might want to stick to just buying one of those souvenirs.
How can I see the Kiss?
(Unknown photographer, Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge in a boat on the Attersee lake in 1909, not long after completion of the Kiss, Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 157540; reproduced with permission under the terms of the CC0 licence)
The original painting hangs on permanent display in Vienna’s Belvedere complex. The institution has several locations within the museum area, but you want Upper Belvedere palace; The Kiss makes up part of the exhibition there.
You likely won’t be the only ones trying to see The Kiss. This is pretty much the most famous painting in the entire country and one of the most famous in the world. So prepare to do battle by smartphone if you pick the wrong time to go in.
The crowd is nothing like those you get for the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, though. And The Kiss is quite large, too – about 1.8m by 1.8m – so easily admired from a little distance, if necessary.
Nevertheless, such is the interest in the painting and the Belvedere exhibition that the museum introduced timeslots to manage the visitor numbers.
Here are your options:
- Pick the right season: slow periods for tourism are:
- Late January through to a couple of weeks before Easter
- A week or two after Easter through to early June
- September, October and early November
- …even so, Vienna is becoming ever more popular as a tourist destination all year round
- Pick the right time: go early. I’ve often gone to Belvedere when it opens and enjoyed relative quiet, even around The Kiss
- Buy a ticket in advance: this is so you can book a timeslot that’s best for you. There’s (obviously) a risk if you buy at the door that your allocated slot may involve a wait, especially in busy seasons. Though I’d still go for an early time so you have fewer visitors competing for space
- Use a Vienna Pass sightseeing pass: this gets you one-time entry to Belvedere, but you don’t need to book a time slot (at the time of writing), so you have more flexibility as to when you go
Incidentally, don’t leave Upper Belvedere without taking a look around the wider exhibition.
Quite apart from a whole number of other works by Klimt (including the almost-but-not-quite-as-famous-as-the-Kiss Judith), the permanent collection typically features art by the likes of Schiele, Rodin, Munch, Hundertwasser, Monet, and van Gogh, as well as remarkable portraits of Napoleon and Austria’s Empress Elisabeth.