The world has quite a few paintings. But only a handful become seen as masterpieces. Dürer’s Young Hare is one of them, a simple watercolour that now lives in Vienna’s Albertina museum.
- Renaissance masterpiece and one of the most famous paintings in Vienna
- Rarely on public display; last seen at the 2019 Dürer exhibition
- See also:
How can I see the Hare?
(Albrecht Dürer; Feldhase, 1502; Aquarell und Deckfarben, Pinsel, mit Deckweiß erhöht © Albertina, Wien)
You can’t see it. Well, sometimes you can.
Dürer’s Hare is a sensitive and precious thing, so the Albertina does not have it on permanent display. Instead, they store our furry friend away under careful conditions to ensure its preservation for future generations.
However, it wouldn’t be worth preserving at all if we couldn’t see it now and then. And so the hare pops out of its burrow every couple of years or so. The last such occasion was the Albertina’s rather wonderful 2019/2020 Dürer exhibition.
Even in centuries past, the hare played a prominent role in art exhibitions. One newspaper announcing a new Dürer exhibition in Vienna in 1871 included the hare on its list of prominent works to look out for, noting (my translation):
Probably the only real example of this illustration, which can be found as copies in so many collections
Dürer completed the painting in 1502, and we can thank Emperor Rudolf II for bringing it under Habsburg ownership later that century.
Just to put the date of origin into perspective: Henry VIII of England had yet to marry any of his six wives, and the Mona Lisa was just a blank wood panel in a Florence art supplies catalogue.
The Albertina is rightly proud of its animal portrait. You can tell this from a visit to the museum shop, which has its fair share of hare-themed souvenirs. Dürer’s work is certainly the museum’s most renowned possession, and I’d rank it as the second most important piece of art in Vienna after Klimt’s Kiss.
This relatively small watercolour measures around 25 cm by 22.5 cm, with just the hare and little else. I’ll leave it to the experts to describe the artistic qualities, but it makes quite an impact when you actually see it.
Apart from the simple idea that it’s over 500 years old, there’s the detail – the individual hairs, shades and colours that combine to produce a near-photographic quality to the painting. And not forgetting the accuracy of the bone structure.
Then you have the quiet reverence of surrounding onlookers knowing they’re witnessing something rare and beautiful. And the hare’s eyes – expressive and including a reflection of a window within.
Dürer’s AD mark rounds off the visual experience, squatting below the animal like a marketing logo from a time when a brand was something you only found on cattle.
So, yes, the Young Hare’s pretty special. Catch it if you can.