We may have had enough realism in life of late, but realism in art offers some distraction. The True to Life exhibition at Upper Belvedere reveals the shared traits of realist painting across the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
- Draws on the extensive in-house art collection
- Includes rarely-seen works, such as an oil portrait by Gustav Klimt
- Runs Mar 18 – Nov 1, 2022
- See also:
- Belvedere visitor tips
- Other selected past Belvedere exhibitions
- Current and future art exhibitions in Vienna
100 years of realist painting
(Wilhelm Trübner, Caesar am Rubicon, around 1878 © Belvedere, Wien)
Given the events of 2020 and 2021, we might prefer to avoid a bit of realism. But realist art is another matter entirely (especially paintings that predate COVID by at least 70 years).
Of course, realism can refer simply to a sense of accurate reproduction, to the everyday, but also to the choice of subject matter: the unvarnished truth and motifs that explore a less sanitised version of life and society.
The True to Life exhibition takes us across a hundred years of realist paintings (1850 to 1950). The idea came from a closer look at Belvedere’s own extensive art collection, which revealed various gems lost to public attention.
By juxtaposing works across different eras, curators Kerstin Jesse and Franz Smola allow common themes and characteristics to emerge and provide us with a better understanding of the realist approach.
The exhibition also reflects the ongoing role of art in social commentary and as a necessary tweaker of social consciences. So we see, for example, paintings of quaint rural scenes from the late 1800s and early 1900s, but the portrayed children are shoeless.
On top of all that, True to Life offers up various works rarely seen before in public, such as an 1875 portrait of an oriental woman by Édouard Frédéric Wilhelm Richter and a 1905 one of a man reading by Emanuel Baschny.
Richter’s subject seems fairly innocent, even stylised, if not for the sharp hairpin held tightly in one hand; don’t turn your back.
An undoubted highlight is Gustav Klimt’s (1893?) portrait of Mathilde Trau (one of the Viennese bourgeoisie), which a private collection has loaned permanently to Belvedere since 2019.
Klimt’s portrait of Mathilde’s husband remains in private ownership, I believe. Incidentally, Franz Trau had the distinction of owning what was likely Vienna’s first tea business – by royal appointment, no less.
A comparison of Klimt’s photorealistic portraiture and the likes of The Kiss is always fascinating (and easy to observe through Belvedere’s permanent exhibition).
Indeed, the scenes of working life, everyday scenes of both the serene and dramatic, portraits and sculptures of the not-famous-at-all, and other realist works stand in noted contrast to the court paintings, modernist creativity, and celebratory and monumental motifs and reliefs elsewhere in the palace.
Tickets and dates
Dip into some artistic realism from March 18th to November 1st, 2022.
A ticket for Upper Belvedere palace gets you into the exhibition as well, not to mention access to all those other works by Klimt.
Upper Belvedere uses a timeslot system. If it gets busy over summer, you might be safer getting tickets in advance if you want to avoid the risk of waiting.
For most of the same period, you can drop down to Lower Belvedere for what might be an opposite perspective to True to Life: the Viva Venezia! exhibition explores the creation and promulgation of the myth of Venice through art (realism largely optional).
How to get there
Follow the instructions for Upper Belvedere in the directions article.
Address: Prinz Eugen-Straße 27, 1030 Vienna