Belvedere Palace has harboured treasures of art ever since its beginnings, at first the collections of Prince Eugene and, from 1781, extensive parts of the imperial collection, which were also open to the public. The various directors of the house resorted to numerous measures to safeguard the works of art, including the glazing of the central wing of the Upper Belvedere in the nineteenth century and the reconstruction of the Orangerie in 2007.
Around 1900, since no measures were being taken to build the planned new museum for the state collection of contemporary art, Austrian artists were urging an improvised accommodation of works in the Lower Belvedere. In 1903, the Moderne Galerie was indeed opened there, thus laying the foundation for today’s collection.
The executive of the Moderne Galerie was at first subordinate to the Ministry of Culture; it was only in 1909 that it received its own director in Dörnhöffer, who spurred on the acquisition of works of art from all epochs. In 1911, the Moderne Galerie was renamed the k.k. Österreichische Staatsgalerie. It could already boast a representative selection of Austrian art from the Middle Ages to the present day and embodied the basic structure of today’s museum.
F. M. Haberditzl directed the Staatsgalerie from 1915 until his removal from office in 1938; his skilful purchasing strategy laid the foundation for the collection of major works of classical modern art. Also carried out during his time in office was the enlargement of the Staatsgalerie to include the two palaces and H. Tietze’s restructuring of the former imperial collection. In 1923, the baroque museum was opened in the Lower Belvedere as the first part of this “restructuring”. The Galerie des XIX Jahrhunderts (Gallery of the XIXth Century) was set up in 1924 in the Upper Belvedere, with works by international and Austrian artists, meanwhile the Moderne Galerie was accommodated in the Orangerie, where the monumental sculpture found an ideal setting in the adjacent privy garden.
During the National-Socialist regime the Moderne Galerie remained closed, which meant that the inventory of so-called "degenerate" works was untouched. New acquisitions since this period have been subject since 1998 to the provenance research department of the Belvedere.
Museum operations during the post-Second World War period have been characterised by numerous new acquisitions, extensions and modernisation measures. From 1991 to 1996, the Upper Belvedere underwent general refurbishment. The collection of medieval art kept in the Orangery from 1953 to 2006 and the collection of baroque works (former Lower Belvedere) are on show from spring 2008 onwards in the Upper Belvedere. Thus it is possible for the first time in its history to see all sections of the collection under one roof, ranging from the Middle Ages to the mid-twentieth century. The Lower Belvedere and the Orangery are used as the Belvedere’s exhibition forum.
The Augarten Contemporary, former home and studio of the sculptor Gustinus Ambrosi, has been used since 2000/2001 for special exhibitions of contemporary art. Austrian art within the international context from 1945 to the present day will find a new home in the 21er Haus in 2011.
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