5 Must-See Artworks and Exhibitions in Vienna

Last week, I went to Vienna on a study trip with The Courtauld Institute of Art, London where I am a Master's student. With 5 days to spend, I had limited time and wanted to make the most of the beautiful cultural melting pot that is Austria’s capital. From incredible ceiling frescos to the dark and fragmented portraits of Egon Schiele, Vienna really offers a plethora of modern and vintage art and architecture which means it can be difficult to decide where to go and how to plan your time. This article will hopefully help you; here are my top picks and most memorable moments which I would recommend to any art student or enthusiast.

1. 'The Kiss' (1907-1908), Gustav Klimt, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere

Now, what list would be complete without perhaps one of the most famous and beloved paintings in the world? Klimt’s masterpiece ‘The Kiss’ sits in the upper floor of the stunning Belvedere Palace and seeing the piece in person is unparalleled. The artwork’s medium consists of gold leaf, silver, and platinum which provide an iridescent and otherworldly effect. Despite the crowds, I would suggest walking up close to the painting and really looking at the work’s minute and intricate details;  notice the flowers below the caressing couple and the beauty in Klimt’s careful pattern-work. This cannot be recreated through a computer screen and must be seen to be believed. Wonderful!

2. ‘Prince Eugene as a new Apollo and Leader of the Muses’, Carlo Innocenzo Carlone (1686–1775), The Marble Hall, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere

Next door to ‘The Kiss’ is the outstanding Marble Hall of the Belvedere Palace. Walking into this room is nearly indescribable- admittedly, I went to the Belvedere in a rush to see Klimt’s artwork, not expecting to be confronted with this room of sublime Rococo extravagance. The space is huge and lit by large, ornate glass chandeliers hanging from the ceiling fresco depicting Eugene of Savoy as Apollo.(Eugene was a military general who transformed the cultural and artistic landscape of Vienna at the turn of the Seventeenth century). You almost fall over backwards trying to see the Greek figures surrounding the Prince while you try to grasp the scale of what you are experiencing; marble, chandeliers, extravagance. This is what Vienna is all about.

3. Egon Schiele Collection, Leopold Museum

Schiele divides opinion with his gloomy and intimate portraits of himself and his sitters; seeing these in person transformed my idea of what his essence is. His brilliant eye for unveiling the dark nature of desire and the human mind, paired with the beautiful way in which he depicts the dynamic colours and form of skin, was truly something to behold. Very psychological, Schiele’s work reflects the intellectual atmosphere of Vienna at the time, where contemporary thinkers such as Sigmund Freud and Ludwig Wittgenstein were working. It has been difficult to select one painting from this exhibition, but my highlights include ‘Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant’ (1912), ‘Reclining Woman’ (1917), and the brilliant ‘The Hermits’ (1912).

4. Gabrielle Munter Retrospective, Leopold Museum (20th October 2023 - 18th February 2024)

This exhibition emphasises the variety of subjects Gabrielle worked with including photographs of friends and family, alongside Fauvist and Surrealist portraits  showing her experimentation with expression and colour. (The vibrant paintings of German Expressionist Gabrielle Munter are reflected in the colours and style of some of our works for sale at Collins & Green Art!). As one of Wassily Kandinsky's lovers, her place in the art world is often eclipsed by him, so I’m very glad this exhibition showcases her talent and establishes her as a wonderful artist in her own right. Highlights include: ‘Bouquet of Flowers’ (1931), ‘Abstract Composition’ (1958), and ‘House in Murnau’ (c.1908).

5. ‘The Beethoven Frieze’ (1901-1902), Gustav Klimt, Secession Building, Vienna

Situated in the Secession building, Klimt’s ‘Beethoven Frieze’ is a mural dedicated to the composer and occupies an entire room. Painted for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition, Klimt’s highly recognisable style consisting of vibrant gold leaf, pattern, and figuration transforms into a mural of life, lust, and suffering which is 34 metres long. The gallery provides headphones playing Beethoven’s Finale, Symphony no. 9, as you walk around the room, creating a real ‘gesamtkunstwerk’, or ‘total work of art’ to occupy the senses. An utterly memorable gem in Vienna’s cultural resumé, and a must-see for any Klimt fan. Other brilliant Klimt artworks in Vienna include 'Death and Life' (1915), also in the Leopold Museum.

Final Thoughts

Vienna is not always at the top of the list for art enthusiasts’ suggestions, and is often overshadowed by places in Europe such as Paris or Rome. However, Vienna, with its varied history of imperialism, destitution, and redemption, was home to reams of artists who grappled with beauty and pain, nature and humanity, the dark and the vibrant. Vienna is a real cultural hub bursting at the seams with art and treasure for any visitor to appreciate. And it is also an incredible centre for music with the Vienna State Opera and the home of Mozart. I absolutely loved my five-day visit to this beautiful city, and I am longing to go back.

By Eloise Saggers, Collins & Green Art.