The Vienna Ringstrasse is one of the most striking ensembles of architecture in the city and a fundamental part of the World Heritage Site, the “historic centre of Vienna”. Its construction in the late nineteenth century expressed Vienna’s claim to be the sole centre of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the same time it documented the empire’s status as a major political power on the European continent. Building began in the 1860s but was only largely complete when World War I broke out. With the Ringstrasse, Vienna presented itself as a new, dynamic, and prestigious centre of trade and commerce.
In the exhibition Klimt and the Ringstrasse, the Belvedere aims to shed light on the art of the Ringstrasse period, its collectors and collections. In the past, painting, sculpture, and architecture tended to be treated in isolation without relating these to the Ringstrasse collectors and patrons who were largely ignored.
Decorative schemes for public buildings and private apartments enable comparison between different artistic approaches while objects convey stylistic change and continuity. The exhibition will showcase works from the Carl Rahl school (specializing in history painting), the magician of colour Hans Makart, and the young emerging painter Gustav Klimt. Represented by early reference works, Klimt marks both the culmination and conclusion of painting during the Ringstrasse period.
Nowadays the term “Ringstrasse period” conjures up the ideal of a romanticized past. Marking the 150th anniversary of its opening, the Belvedere’s exhibition is thus aiming to visualize this transformation in art during the construction of the Ringstrasse that lasted over 50 years. For ultimately, constant change, discrepancy and continuity are the hallmarks of this period of rapid industrialization, which affected all areas of life from the economy and politics to society and art.
The exhibition will feature paintings to decorate the Burgtheater and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, designs for the magnificent rooms at Palais Epstein, Makart’s painting for Nikolaus Dumba’s study, some of the embellishments for Dumba’s music room by Gustav Klimt and the Künstler-Compagnie, and furnishings belonging to Makart. Objects owned by patrons such as Friedrich von Leitenberger and Nikolaus Dumba will be presented as well as precious pieces from the Bloch-Bauer family’s collections. The exhibition unveils a differentiated view of an epoch that, using new means of industrial production and reproduction, in many ways surpassed the possibilities of craftsmanship and was in quest of a new canon of values in art.