Schloss Belvedere Palace & Art Museum
Österreichische Galerie Belvedere - Part IV

The main gallery dedicated to Austria′s most outstanding artist Egon Schiele (1890 to 1918) is arranged in the most disgusting manner one could possibly come up with. Some of Schiele′s most important paintings (of the few that are not on display in the Leopold Museum) are shown in a rather small room: "Death and the Maiden", "The Family", "The Embrace" and "The Artist′s Wife".

The central piece in the room, however, is a rather strange painting of Gustav Mahler and the Wiener Philharmonika in action, which stands out in a strong contrast to the late Schiele works. The mix is the most insensitive display of Schiele′s works I′ve ever seen in a proper museum and I have no idea what the curators have thought this arrangement might help to show. To me, it degrades Schiele′s paintings to flanks. One can hear people often referring to Schiele as the "Gothic master of expressionsim" because of his precise and dominating use of lines.

On contrast, Oskar Kokoschka (1896 to 1980) is called the "Baroque master of expressionism", since he uses shapes and forms and dissolves lines and borders. The galleries after the horrible Schiele display are mostly dedicated to Kokoschka′s years in Vienna (and summers in Salzburg). Other paintings nearby illustrate different trends in Germanic and European expressionism with works by the previously mentioned Richard Gerstel, Emil Nolde, Edvard Munch, Fernand Leger and Max Oppenheimer.

Gems of Biedermeier, Historicism & Realism

A completely different impression can be drawn from the galleries dedicated to Austrian artists from historicism, Biedermeier, Realism and early Impressionism. Taken together, this part of the exhibition accounts for easily one third of the entire collection, but tends to be neglected by the Klimt-loving crowds. It probably takes a bit of in-depth interest in Austrian art to fully appreciate the paintings by artists like Hans Markat (1840 to 1884) and colleagues from around 1800 to 1880. Here you can pick up the development of art in Austria that ends in the Kunsthistorisches Museum with Canaletto′s city views and other early Romanticist landscape and genre paintings.

The Biedermeier painters continued the tradition of Romantic paintings and focussed on rural scenes and portraits of families and realistic, but glorifying fashion. Impressionism never took off in Austria as much as it did in other countries and was merged with other styles (one could consider many of Klimt′s works to be impressionist), but some of the works close to it are the paintings by Anton Romako (1832 to 1889).

One (in Austria quite famous) painting commemorates the "Seeschlacht von Lissa" ("Sea Battle of Lissa"), in which the slightly mad Admiral Tegetthoff rammed his ship into one of the enemy. Note the facial expression on the faces of the sailors ("Gosh, this guy must be crazy..."). Maybe in an attempt to get some of the attention that Klimt enjoys, the exhibition of Biedermeier, Realism and Historicism is - at least to me - the best-arranged and best-labelled part of the exhibition at least in the Upper Belvedere.

Continue: Part 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

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