During the boom years of the Gründerzeit, a profusion of palaces and grand public buildings was built around Vienna’s magnificent boulevard, the Ringstrasse. In summer 2015, the Belvedere’s exhibition Klimt and the Ringstrasse – A Showcase of Grandeur will be focusing on the charismatic Ringstrasse painters who shaped their era. Starting with the oeuvre of the “painter prince” Hans Makart, the exhibition traces developments up to the triumph of Gustav Klimt and his painters’ collective, the Künstler-Compagnie. Reconstructions of entire decorative ensembles will present glimpses of the glittering lifestyle in the Ringstrasse era to visitors.
The Vienna Ringstrasse is one of the most striking ensembles of architecture in the city and a fundamental part of the World Heritage Site, the “historic centre of Vienna”. Its construction in the late nineteenth century expressed Vienna’s claim to be the sole centre of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the same time it documented the empire’s status as a major political power on the European continent. Building began in the 1860s but was only largely complete when World War I broke out. With the Ringstrasse, Vienna presented itself as a new, dynamic, and prestigious centre of trade and commerce.
The Ringstrasse reflected the monarchy’s aims to modernize Vienna, and its architecture encapsulates the transition from a medieval city to a modern, industrial metropolis. On the one hand, buildings like the Burgtheater or the Naturhistorisches and Kunsthistorisches Museum demonstrated the monarchy’s claim to cultural leadership while the Neue Hofburg presented the political power of the Habsburgs. On the other, the wealthy bourgeoisie’s town palaces, Parliament, the Stock Exchange and the Musikverein all express the self-conception of upper-middle-class society as a new economic and cultural power. One can read the Ringstrasse’s architecture as a reflection of this dual function of culture: for the imperial family it was a symbol of political authority; to the wealthy bourgeoisie it represented commercial power. Accordingly, the buildings’ decorative schemes can be interpreted as an expression of the cultural self-conception of their respective patrons.
In the exhibition Klimt and the Ringstrasse, the Belvedere aims to shed light on the art of the Ringstrasse period, its collectors and collections. In the past, painting, sculpture, and architecture tended to be treated in isolation without relating these to the Ringstrasse collectors and patrons who were largely ignored.
Decorative schemes for public buildings and private apartments enable comparison between different artistic approaches while objects convey stylistic change and continuity. The exhibition will showcase works from the Carl Rahl school (specializing in history painting), the magician of colour Hans Makart, and the young emerging painter Gustav Klimt. Represented by early reference works, Klimt marks both the culmination and conclusion of painting during the Ringstrasse period.
Nowadays the term “Ringstrasse period” conjures up the ideal of a romanticized past. Marking the 150th anniversary of its opening, the Belvedere’s exhibition is thus aiming to visualize this transformation in art during the construction of the Ringstrasse that lasted over 50 years. For ultimately, constant change, discrepancy and continuity are the hallmarks of this period of rapid industrialization, which affected all areas of life from the economy and politics to society and art.
The exhibition will feature paintings to decorate the Burgtheater and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, designs for the magnificent rooms at Palais Epstein, Makart’s painting for Nikolaus Dumba’s study, some of the embellishments for Dumba’s music room by Gustav Klimt and the Künstler-Compagnie, and furnishings belonging to Makart. Objects owned by patrons such as Friedrich von Leitenberger and Nikolaus Dumba will be presented as well as precious pieces from the Bloch-Bauer family’s collections. The exhibition unveils a differentiated view of an epoch that, using new means of industrial production and reproduction, in many ways surpassed the possibilities of craftsmanship and was in quest of a new canon of values in art.
Rennweg 6, 1030 Vienna
Tram: D, 71 (Stop “Unteres Belvedere”)
Originally guests would have been welcomed with great ceremony in the Lower Belvedere’s two-storey Marble Hall. The walls’ structuring has been borrowed from the architecture of triumphal arches while war trophies and prisoners allude to Eugene’s successes as an imperial commander. By contrast, the oval shaped plaster medallions showing scenes from the life of Apollo recall the prince’s aesthetic interests. The ceiling fresco by Martino Altomonte depicts Apollo in a sun chariot. Eugene is represented as a nude hero as Mercury announces gifts from the pope honouring the prince’s achievements at the battle of Peterwardein in 1716.
The Marble Gallery was most probably planned as a space to present the three Herculaneum Women. These classical statues were placed in the second, fourth and sixth niches while the remaining highly dynamic sculptures were by the Baroque artist Domenico Parodi. In 1736, the Herculaneum Women were sold to the Dresden court and Parodi created three further sculptures to replace them. In the Marble Gallery the walls are also embellished with stucco war trophies referring to Prince Eugene’s military successes. On the ceiling a stucco relief glorifies the prince, showing him at the centre, enthroned and armed, being honoured with awards while Peace approaches banishing Envy and Hatred.
Hall of Grotesques
Decorating ‘‘sale terrene’’ and garden pavilions with painted grotesques on the walls and ceiling was very popular in Vienna in the early eighteenth century. Augsburg-born painter Jonas Drentwett adorned the ceiling of the Lower Belvedere’s Hall of Grotesques with the Four Seasons and the Four Elements (in the corners). The windowless walls show Vulcan’s Forge and the Three Graces embodying masculine and feminine principles. The majority of these paintings have been preserved in their original condition. However, the wall facing the Privy Garden was hit by a bomb in 1945 and thus required restoration.
Originally, the Marble Gallery was adjoined by a salle de conversation, its walls covered with silk painted with branches and birds. Under Maria Theresa, this room was redesigned into a gold cabinet (or mirror and porcelain cabinet) as part of the adaptation of the Lower Belvedere. Some of its decoration was taken from Prince Eugene’s city palace on Himmelpfortgasse with additions being made for the Lower Belvedere as required. One can assume that this redesigned Gold Cabinet had been completed by 1765.