Frankly, we could all do with a few more pastoral landscapes, flowers and rosy-cheeked family portraits to escape from reality. The Better Times? exhibition highlights the idyllic paintings of the Viennese Biedermeier era, but the question mark in the title is an important reminder that the past was no utopia and not all is as it seems.
- Showcases the works of Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller and contemporaries
- Also casts an analytical eye on the true nature of Biedermeier representations
- Runs May 12, 2021 – Feb 27, 2022
- See also: Belvedere ticket and visitor tips
(Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, On Corpus Christi morning © Belvedere, Vienna / On loan from the Society of Friends of the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere)
I’ve written an introduction to the Biedermeier era elsewhere. But to save you a click, consider it a period from roughly 1815 to around 1848 in Austria which saw the rise of the middle classes.
Given the rather oppressive political environment of the time (the famous Metternich was at work), the newly self-aware nouveau almost-rich retreated behind their (pristine) curtains into a kind of stereotypical domestic bliss: flowers and family, piano recitals and perambulations in the park.
The Biedermeier period may have lacked the kind of cutting edge excitement of the Wiener Moderne, but it left its mark on local art enough to be considered an epoch and style in its own right.
In painting, the Viennese Biedermeier found its expression, for example, in floral motifs, idyllic landscapes, and family portraits. The images present a sanitised quasi-aspirational picture of life.
The Better Times? exhibition showcases some of the works of the era. The timing seems rather apt, given our yearning for a kind of romanticised normality as the COVID pandemic continues to affect our lives.
But curator Rolf H. Johannsen also reveals how Biedermeier paintings show it was not all smiles and cupcakes in early 19th-century Vienna and Austria (I’m not sure if cupcakes were a thing back then).
Various artists feature in the exhibition, with Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller the one whose name is stamped indelibly across the front of any treatise on Biedermeier art. Other artists of Biedermeier fame whose works you can admire include von Amerling, Danhauser, Adalbert Stifter, and many more.
If you imagine Waldmüller purely as a conservative painter of domestic idylls, be sure to see his work, Die erschöpfte Kraft (if not in the exhibition, it’s usually in Belvedere’s permanent display): a mother lies collapsed and exhausted below a sleeping baby.
Nor was Waldmüller particularly pro-establishment; he became known for progressive techniques and modern attitudes to teaching art. Some even consider him a harbinger of the later Secessionist movement.
Dates and tickets
No extra fee is required for the Better Times? exhibition at Upper Belvedere – just the normal entrance ticket. Enjoy the Biedermeier paintings from May 12th, 2021 to February 27th, 2022.
The Biedermeier influence covers other forms of artistic expression, too, particularly furniture design. You might want to drop into the Imperial Furniture Collection (effectively Vienna’s furniture museum) for plenty of Biedermeier examples, including complete rooms kitted out with original Biedermeier items.
How to get to the exhibition
Simply follow the travel tips for Upper Belvedere on the directions page.
Address: Prinz Eugen-Straße 27, 1030 Vienna