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.
The Ringstrasse reflected the monarchy’s aims to modernize Vienna, and its architecture encapsulates the transition
from a medieval city to a modern, industrial metropolis. On the one hand, buildings like the Burgtheater or the Naturhistorisches
and Kunsthistorisches Museum demonstrated the monarchy’s claim to cultural leadership while the Neue Hofburg presented the
political power of the Habsburgs. On the other, the wealthy bourgeoisie’s town palaces, Parliament, the Stock Exchange and
the Musikverein all express the self-conception of upper-middle-class society as a new economic and cultural power. One can
read the Ringstrasse’s architecture as a reflection of this dual function of culture: for the imperial family it was a symbol
of political authority; to the wealthy bourgeoisie it represented commercial power. Accordingly, the buildings’ decorative
schemes can be interpreted as an expression of the cultural self-conception of their respective patrons.
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.