Experience Glimpses of Gustav Klimt in Vienna
Glimpses of Gustav Klimt in Vienna
From Mozart to Mahler to Schiele to Freud, Vienna has long been a culture hub. But if I had to name one person who’s left a lasting mark on local life, I’d pick Gustav Klimt. In this post, I’ll show you some fun ways to experience glimpses of Klimt in Vienna. While we’re at it, I’ll offer you some tips on where to eat nearby.
Born in a small village on the edge of the city, Klimt showed early promise as a child artist. As a teenager, he received formal training at a school of applied arts and crafts in Vienna. By his late teens, Klimt, his brother, and a friend were winning commissions to paint indoor murals. They called themselves the Company of Artists.
Above all else, Klimt was a driving force in bringing modern art to Vienna. He rose to fame during Vienna’s so-called Ringstrasse era (1857-1914), when the city changed dramatically. Most notably, the emperor ordered old buildings torn down so that a grand boulevard could circle the city center. Soon, the upper middle classes lived in elegant homes along the Ringstrasse.
Klimt and his team decorated some of Vienna’s most important buildings there. Today, the Ringstrasse is a World Heritage site.
Gustav Klimt’s Early Work: Kunsthistorisches Museum Murals
With their teacher, the Company of Artists painted one of my favorite sets of Klimt murals. Above the grand staircase at the Kunsthistorisches Museum are gorgeous images in Klimt’s peerless style.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to the museum when you can climb scaffolds to see the murals up close. The image at the top of this post shows museum visitors on the Klimt bridge © KHM-Museumsverband.
By his mid-20s, Klimt was already famous for painting these murals. In fact, Emperor Franz Josef I awarded him the Golden Order of Merit, in part to honor this body of work.
Gustav Klimt and The Vienna Secession
In many ways, Klimt’s leading role as co-founder of the Secession movement (1898 – 1900) was another high point of his career. Through this movement, he helped to bring modern art to Vienna by showcasing the works of young artists and those with unconventional styles.
For Klimt himself, the Secession building was the venue for his unfinished masterpiece, the Beethoven Frieze murals. Klimt and his team painted this larger-than-life work directly on the walls of a large room in the building’s basement. In all, the frieze is 7 feet tall and over 110 feet wide.
Loaded with symbols, the frieze depicts man’s desire for happiness despite all of the stresses and strains of daily life. Klimt based this theme on Richard Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Also, the Beethoven Frieze marked the beginning of Klimt’s use of gold leaf in the early 1900s. During this so-called “golden period,” he created many stunning works featuring thinly hammered sheets of gold.
Interestingly, Klimt’s father, who died at the start of this phase of Klimt’s career, had been a gold engraver.
The Belvedere Museum
If you want to see lots of Klimt’s works in one place, check out the galleries at the Belvedere Museum. There, you can find many of his most iconic pieces. In fact, this is the world’s largest collection of Klimt’s paintings.
Also, it’s worth noting that the Belvedere Palace and its gardens are a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a unique grouping of nature and art.
Klimt’s “golden phase” peaked with one of his most famous paintings, The Kiss (1907/1908). In many ways, this may be the best known piece on display at the Belvedere.
But for me, the best part about the Belvedere (besides its lovely formal gardens) is its holdings of Klimt landscapes. These lesser known works are stunning in their own right. In some ways, they feel more alive than many of his “golden period” works.
Now I’ll tell you about three places for combining your art stroll with your appetite.
Amerlingbeisl: Restaurant with Vine-Covered Courtyard
Less than a 10-minute walk from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, you can find a hidden gem frequented by locals. Amerlingbeisl is a relaxed place off the beaten path. There, you can get simple and cheap meals in a peaceful al fresco setting.
Restaurant beim Belvedere: Mediterranean Food
Across the street from the Upper Belvedere Museum, you can dine on surprisingly tasty Mediterranean food. Restaurant beim Belvedere features a large menu of Greek, Middle Eastern, and veggie-friendly favorites. Be careful – the tzatziki with lightly grilled bread is very addictive!
Cafe Sperl: An Old-World Cafe Near the Secession Building
Although there aren’t lots of restaurants by the Secession Building, one of Vienna’s best cafes is a short walk away. With a dark, high-ceilinged interior and a surprisingly pleasant al fresco area, Cafe Sperl has plenty of character. In fact, some Secession era artists hung out there. While I can’t vouch for its meals, I do know that coffees and pastries at Cafe Sperl are terrific!
Why Klimt and Vienna?
Few artists’ works are as closely tied to a time and place as Klimt’s. If you look at his paintings or murals, you’re taken back right away to Vienna circa 1900.
But in addition to his talent as an artist, Klimt opened local eyes to new styles. In co-founding the Secession movement, he championed contemporary Viennese artists and helped to highlight modern art from beyond Austria’s borders. For all of these reasons, he left a lasting mark on life in his home town.
I hope this post offers you some food for thought for catching glimpses of Klimt in Vienna.