I’m not a natural-born furniture enthusiast, but still found many items in the Möbelmuseum Wien (Vienna Furniture Museum) that caused my eyebrows to lift in admiration.
Here are my favorites.
- Thrones, cabinets and more from throughout the centuries
- Home to much Habsburg memorabilia, especially for Empress Elisabeth
- Also features plenty of creativity from the Biedermeier and Wiener Moderne eras
- See also:
History in furniture
Some items impress not so much for their physical characteristics but more for their place in history. For example…
One of the most momentous events in recent Austrian history was the 1955 signing of the State Treaty at Upper Belvedere (pictured above). This saw the country regain its sovereign independence from the occupying WWII allies.
The museum has one of the tables used by the likes of Vyacheslav Molotov, John Foster Dulles, and Harold Macmillan to sign the document, together with behind-the-scenes photos and details of this pivotal moment.
The Empress (Sisi) obsessed over her looks and weight, and the worn-down footplate on the scales feels like a tragic reminder of the eternal battle against fat and social or self-imposed pressures.
Elsewhere, you also see one of the fans that Sisi hid behind to avoid the glare of public curiosity. Impressive how much you can learn about a person from a few simple household objects.
Photographs of Elisabeth
(Photograph of Empress Elisabeth by Ludwig Angerer, 1855 – 1870. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
An extensive set of lithographs and portraits also track Sisi through her life. If you know her biography from the Sisi Museum, you can almost see her inner struggles and personality in the frozen countenances.
Of the many photos, only one shows the empress with even a trace of a smile. Most exude melancholy and distance.
Crown Prince Rudolf’s high chair
A special mention goes to the ebony and velvet high chair used by Sisi’s son from around 1860. I always find it astonishing how even the most banal and practical of items still had to have that element of prestige about them.
Equally astonishing is the fact there appear to be no scratches and stains. I have three possible theories:
- Rudolf was a remarkably well-behaved toddler (unlikely)
- The museum restorers know their job (likely)
- The imperial family even had show versions of their children’s furniture to impress the neighbours (very possible)
Franz II/I’s throne, for example, lacks the kind of ornate splendour you might imagine, despite the sphinxes and lion paw feet. Same goes for Emperor Franz Joseph’s throne, which is just a few steps away.
But to imagine such powerful monarchs sitting on exactly that item of furniture…
You can even see Franz’s throne (and its regal occupant) in an adjoining 1815 painting by Johann Peter Krafft.
This direct contact with the past permeates the building. We even see the coffin used to transport Emperor Maximilian back to Austria after his 1867 execution in Mexico.
(Laxenburg room of the Vienna Furniture Museum; press photo © Schloß Schönbrunn Kultur- und Betriebsges.m.b.H / Severin Wurnig)
The cabinets taken from the Franzensburg and housed in the museum’s Laxenburg room feature exquisite craftmanship and detail. We’re talking, for example, late 17th century designs made of ebony and pearwood with patterned inlays.
I’m guessing they did not use these cabinets to store nails and leftover bits of string.
Biedermeier & bentwood beauties
The museum might be the best place in all of Vienna to view Biedermeier design.
The chairs and sofas lining one wall offer the rather delightful prospect of having your bottom pressing against genuine history (it’s OK: sitting is encouraged). They also make a comfortable spot to take a break from the rigours of meandering round a museum.
One chair you can’t sit on from a little later in history is the unassuming Thonet No.14, which sold in its millions from around 1859 onwards.
The example in the Möbelmuseum might just be the oldest on display anywhere in the world, predating even the steam-bending bentwood manufacturing process that made Thonet (and later iterations of the chair) so famous.
Moderne & Modern
One of Vienna’s more traditional coffee houses is Café Museum, so seeing some of their original furniture proved a delight: a Loos-designed chair from 1899 (when the café opened) and a Zotti-designed corner suite from 1930 (the first major refurbishment).
An existential reminder
Finally, the side of the building opposite the pristine displays of various rooms furnished in the Biedermeier fashion features a depot of objects held in the collection: original imperial items stacked like the back of a market trader’s van.
All that power and splendour reduced to a museum footnote. On a dark, windy night, I might suggest the scene reflects the futility of human existence. But let’s just say it reminds us that individual rank and wealth are mere ephemera in the timeline of civilisation.