History of the Society
The Friends of the Belvedere looks back on a long tradition.
In 1912 the society Österreichischer Staatsgalerieverein was founded in Vienna. The societys first report starts with the following words: Wherever there is a flourishing interest in fine art, the aspirations of private art lovers to play an active part in the development of public art collections have met with the aspirations of museum administrations to channel the impulses of private individuals toward certain goals and utilize these to carry out their own tasks. Wilhelm Bode, the acclaimed art historian, museum professional, and one of the founders of modern museums, was the first to set up a private organization, thus securing an interest in art collections among a wider public. Inspired by Bodes work in Berlin, Regierungsrat Dr. Dörnhöffer set about founding a museum society in Vienna. Dörnhöffer was the Director of the Österreichische Staatsgalerie, todays Belvedere. The role of this society was to support the collecting activities of the museum through purchasing paintings from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (contemporary art at that time). Dr. Felix Freiherr v. Oppenheimer gathered together a group of art lovers who helped attain these goals by donating large sums of money.
The first painting to be purchased for the museum by the newly founded Society was Corpus Christi Morning by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (numbered inv. no. LG1 in the museums holdings ever since).
At the time of foundation, the Societys President was Paul Ritter v. Schoeller, its Vice President was Dr. Felix Freiherr v. Oppenheimer, and the Director of the k.k. Staatsgalerie was also a member of the board. As yet there were not a vast number of members. The list comprised forty names from the nobility and from industry including Ferdinand Bloch (later Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer), Prince Johann von und zu Liechtenstein, Viktor Ritter v. Mautner Markhof, Margrave Alexander Pallavicini, and Director General Viktor Zuckerkandl. The Societys first report reveals that some of the gentlemen, including Ferdinand Bloch, had paid a one-off payment to purchase life membership. It can be safely assumed that this must have been a large sum of money. The first women to be accepted into this exclusive circle were Hermine Wittgenstein (1916), sister of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Princess Marie v. Thurn und Taxis (1917). In the year it was founded one hoped that the Society would gain new Friends and Patrons in Vienna and the various crown lands for its increasingly important scope of activity. The Society grew steadily and by the 1920s the list of members covered several pages. Indeed, the Societys remit ultimately encompassed all of the Federal Museums. In 2000 the Federal Museums were converted into academic institutions under public law. On 9 March 2000, the Society Friends of the Belvedere was founded because the original Society of Museum Friends in Vienna (19521999) was now dedicated solely to the Kunsthistorisches Museum and its affiliated institutions, leaving the Belvedere without the support of a Friends association. A new Society had been founded with a modern structure and bespoke Society Statutes, but it continued to pursue the traditional goal of sustaining and supporting the Belvedere.