Friday, 5 May 2017

Schloss Belvedere

Schloss Belvedere consists of two grand palaces - the Upper (Oberes) Belvedere, and the Lower (Unteres) Belvedere - as well as an Orangerie and 21er Haus gallery, which showcases contemporary art, set in magnificent gardens which were modelled on those at Versailles. The palaces were built in the 18th century as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, and are considered to be examples of the finest in Baroque architecture. Belvedere is located just outside central Vienna's Ringstrasse, and made for a good 40 minute trek (with lots of stops for photo ops!), from my hotel near the Hofburg palace. Although it was a mainly overcast day the trek/pilgrimage was worth the effort for the well manicured gardens and the spectacular artwork. I decided to give the Lower Belvedere palace a miss on this occasion, despite their retrospective of the works of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, as there were bigger fish to fry in the Upper Belvedere.

The gardens at Belvedere are peaceful, and well protected by a finery of sphinxes waiting to pounce, whilst the entrance hall to Upper Belvedere is suitably grand with huge, typically Viennese decorative caryatid and telamon statues.

I started on the second floor to give the large crowds of Austrian sixth-formers and Japanese tourists time to view the Klimt's and Schiele's on the first floor and then move on. Among the works up there was an interesting show of the work of Tina Blau, a famous local landscape artist and some other interesting 19th century works. I then descended to the first floor and saw Jacques-Louis David's majestic Napoleon Crossing The Alps (above).

Two landscapes that appealed to me were this bright Munch seascape, because of the way in which he has captured the light on both the figures and the beach, and the curious symbolist/proto-surreal landscape - The Evil Mothers (below), by Giovanni Segantini, (the counterpart to which - The Punishment of Luxury - can be found in Liverpool's Walker Art Gallery which I posted about here last year).

The work of Erika Giovanni Klien was a new discovery for me and I really liked the sense of movement evoked in this great kinetic work - Diving Bird (1939) above.

The piercing, staring eyes in this self-portrait of the artist Koloman Moser are intensely hypnotic. There is lots of intense gurning in these portrait sculptures by 18th century German-Austrian artist Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, which still look incredibly contemporary.

The amazingly grand Marble Hall is breathtaking, and one of the few places in Upper Belvedere where you are actually allowed to take photographs.

A covertly taken view of the gardens leading down to Lower Belvedere from the second floor of Upper Belvedere.

Having seen the rest of the collection of Impressionist and Medieval galleries I decided it was time to brave the crowds and see the world's largest Gustav Klimt collection. The Klimt's are spread over three rooms, and quite fittingly they are combined with pieces by his protégé Egon Schiele. Master and upstart mentor together. Klimt's landscapes are grouped together in the middle room and are particularly pleasant and calming. A few of which are pictured below. A couple of weeks earlier Klimt's Bauerngarten (Blumengarten) landscape had sold for £48 million at Sotheby's. These landscapes are much better quality, and I can't even begin to imagine how much this collection would realise if they were ever to be auctioned.

Alley in Park Von Schloss Kammer - 1912

Barnhouse in Buchberg - 1911

Flowering Poppies - 1907

Schloss Kammer am Attersee III - 1910

Farm Garden with Sunflowers - c1912
The first room groups together the figurative work of Schiele and Klimt.

Gustav Klimt, Mother With Two Children - 1909-10

I loved the similarity in both theme and composition between these two pieces by mentor and protégé. The way in which Klimt draws attention to the faces of the figures illuminated against the darkness of their clothing and the background, is so tender and emphasises the maternal bond. Both paintings are based around pleasing triangular compositions.

Egon Schiele - Mother With Two Children (1917)

Egon Schiele - Portrait of The Artist's Wife Seated (1918)

Egon Schiele - Portrait of The Publisher Eduard Kosmak (1910)

Egon Schiele - The Rainer Boy (1910)

Death and the Maiden - 1915

These two large pieces by Schiele were so sensual and beautiful, and rightly garnered much attention from visitors. Both were absolutely stunning in evoking a mood of love, and a sense of desperation in the piece above.

The Embrace - 1917

Although Schiele more than holds his own in the previous two rooms, the curators have sensibly given the final room over to Klimt. The room is dramatically painted black which adds to the mood of awe and wonder sensed at the confrontation of the master's work. Women take centre stage in all of the paintings - except for The Kiss - with the men reduced to the part of bit players. Early work apart, Klimt only painted portraits of women who seemed to be an obsession of his. He lived with his mother until her death, and had a decades long relationship with Emilie Flöge, despite the rumours of him having fathered fourteen children. Perhaps he loved women just a little too much.

" I can paint and draw. There is no self-portrait of myself. I am not interested in my own person - more in other people, females. Those who want to know more about me shall observingly regard my paintings and try to realise who I am and what I want." 
Gustav Klimt.

The black background of the Klimt gallery also allows the sheen of the gilding and gem-like colours contained in Klimt's paintings to dazzle like jewels. Photography was forbidden, so here are most of the works in that magical final room taken from the internet. There was a real mood of reverence, and it was as though we were in church paying homage at the altar of Klimt having journeyed and reached the end of our pilgrimage. 

Judith I - 1901

This painting was particularly alluring. The upper part of the frame was gorgeously decorative, and the figure of Judith was beautifully painted with a technique of short thin strokes which could possibly have pre-figured the technique of the Pointillists. It was interesting to see the way in which Klimt used strokes of colder colours such as pale blues in the skin of Judith.

Fritza Riedler - 1906

Adam & Eve - 1918

Girlfriends - Water Serpents I - 1904-7

This painting (above), surprised me as it was so small in size in comparison to the others, and was more like a book illustration. It was still dreamily sensual, and immaculately painted though.

Portrait of Johanna Staude 1917-18

Sonja Knips - 1898

Interesting to compare this earlier, softly painted, more academic-style portrait (above), with Klimt's more colourful later style.

The Bride - 1917-18

The Kiss - 1907-8

All of the works in the room are special, but The Kiss is the one everybody wanted to see. It has a whole wall all to itself, and actually needs the space to accomodate the throng of visitors that surrounds it. It took a while to get close to because of the crowds. I thought that the black walls and the harsh spot-lighting reflecting off the painting in the gallery really did not do The Kiss any favours. It is, still, nonetheless a particularly beautiful, sensual painting. The background is interesting as Klimt has spattered gold paint onto the dark ground so it looks like the lovers, locked in their own reverie, are lost, and alone in the vastness of the cosmos. The message appears to be that love transcends all.

The Upper Belvedere though very crowded at times, was an absolutely wonderful experience. There really aren't enough superlatives for the work here of Klimt and Schiele. I left on a real high, and the next museum I visited although not as grandly decorative as the Upper Belvedere, contained even more impressive Austrian masterpieces by Klimt, and especially Schiele.

Oberes Belvedere - Upper Belvedere
Prinz Eugen-Straße 27
1030 Vienna