I guess no visitor to the Austrian capital will miss a visit to the famous Viennese Albertina with one of the largest collections of prints in the world. Its exhibition rooms attract up to a million of art admirers annually.
The gallery’s collections include 50,000 drawings, etchings and watercolors, as well as 1.5 million engravings! Among the authors are names such as Rembrandt, Dürer, Rubens, da Vinci, Raffael, Michelangelo, Picasso and many others. Who knows what else we could have admired here if one of the three ships carrying the property of Albert of Saxony, Duke of Teschen, had not sunk during a storm in the English Channel. Albert was the husband of Maria Christina, the favorite daughter of Maria Theresa, who, as the only one of 16 children, could marry out of love, not as part of her mother’s strategic marriage policy. Albert became the governor of Hungary with his seat at Bratislava Castle and it was here that he began his art collections. When Joseph II ascended the throne, he sent his sister and her husband to the Austrian Netherlands. Of course, the couple took all of their valuables and works of art with them. However, due to the invasion of French troops, they had to return to Vienna again – with three ships loaded with furniture, books, paintings and other precious objects. In Vienna, at Albert’s request, Belgian architect Louis Montoyer extended the baroque palace of Count Silva-Tarouca so that there was enough space in its chambers for the family, art collections, 500 servants and 200 horses. In 1921, almost 100 years after Albert’s death, the palace was given the official name Albertina in his honor.
In 2007, the collection was enriched by a generous gift from the Batliner family – 500 paintings and 30 sculptures by representatives of European modernism. Without this collection, Albertina would not be what it is today, as the gallery has since ceased to focus exclusively on prints and drawings. Excellent exhibitions are held here every year, I have already had the opportunity to see masterpieces of Munch, Chagall or Picasso. I remember the exhibition dedicated to van Gogh very well, not only because of the paintings on display but also because it was necessary to wait in a very long line for the tickets and the opening hours of the gallery were extended until midnight.
Albrecht Dürer’s exhibition was one of the highlights of 2019 – it doesn’t matter if you have missed it, Albertina owns up to 140 pieces of his work and several of them are part of the permanent exhibition. Those of you who have already visited Albertina know that the emblem of this gallery is a hare. Dürer’s Young Hare. I enjoy looking at it. One has to look very closely to see that the artist used a brush, not a pen. Even a brush with only one hair for the fine thin white lines on the hare’s fur. The painting has no composition, as if the animal was standing in a vacuum, perhaps that is why almost every copy of it always contains something additional, at least grass. But when you look closely at the bunny again, you will see a reflection of a window in its right eye…
Let’s return to history again for a bit: after Albert, his successor, Archduke Charles, the most important reformer of the Austrian army, settled in the palace. He became famous for his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Aspern in 1809.
You can also find him depicted with his military staff in a painting by Johann Peter Kraft in one of the Albertina rooms, and his huge equestrian statue stands near the Hofburg at Heldenplatz. His son, Archduke Albrecht (who is sitting on a horse in front of the entrance to the Albertina), also settled in this historic building. A ramp in front of the Albertina and a fountain were built at that time. There are two allegorical figures Danubius and Vindobona on the fountain which symbolize the relationship between the Danube and Vienna river.
In fact, from 1794 to 1918, the palace was the representative center for high-ranking military commanders of the monarchy. The last Habsburg inhabitant was Archduke Friedrich, who moved here with his wife from Bratislava. After the collapse of the monarchy, it was expropriated by the state and the luxurious rooms became warehouses, deposits and offices. Only after the extensive reconstruction at the end of the 2nd millennium and the addition of rooms mostly with original furniture, which Albertina’s management searched for at auctions or in private collections around the world, the palace shone again in its former splendor. And so today, 20 luxuriously furnished state rooms with rare wall coverings, chandeliers, tiles and old furniture will take you into the wonderful world of classicism. One of the most beautiful rooms is the Hall of the Muses, whose sandstone sculptures have such a perfectly polished surface that they look as if they were made out of white marble.
Another significant expansion of the collections took place in 2017. When entrepreneur Karlheinz Essl declared the bankruptcy of his company Baumax, his private art museum was also threatened with extinction. Therefore, he decided to donate over 1,300 works of Austrian post-war art to Albertina and 60% of the collection was bought by the Haselsteiner family foundation. In addition, the great collector and supporter of art, industrialist Hans Peter Haselsteiner also lent his art collection to Albertina and at the same time promised to renovate the Künstlerhaus (House of Artists) which was to become a branch of the world-famous Viennese gallery. The new Albertina branch was opened at the end of May 2020.
The first exhibition carried the distinctive title: “The Beginning: Art in Austria 1945 – 1980”. It was primarily devoted to the revival of Austrian art after World War II. It was in Vienna, where all Austrian art movements met, that the artistic ideal, infected with Nazi ideology, lasted for over three decades. It is an interesting coincidence (or intention?) that the exhibition took place in the building that had been the last stage for the derogatory traveling exhibition “Degenerated Art” in the Third Reich. Therefore, it was as if the new exhibition was trying to banish the evil spirit of the past and add a new identity to the beautifully renovated 150-year-old building. The represented artists (Ernest Fuchs, Anton Lehmden, Rudolf Hausner, Otto Mühl, Günter Brus, Hermann Nitsch, Alfred Hrdlicka, Gottfried Helnwein, Franz Ringel, Peter Pongratz and others) were bearers of resistance to authority and the twisted artistic ideal. Visitors could also admire the works of Viennese fantastic realism, kinetic and concrete art, as well as the Austrian playful variant of pop art.
Three important artists, Friedensreich Hundertwasser, Arnulf Rainer and Maria Lassnig, had dedicated special rooms for their paintings. In total, almost 400 objects of this provocative era on the threshold of postmodernism – paintings, sculptures, objects, drawings, videos, photographs and installations – from over 70 artists were presented on the ground floor and in the basement of the Künstlerhaus.
Albertina Modern will continue to focus on modern art, with Austrian artists always having at least a 50% representation.
If you don’t get to Vienna so soon, don’t despair. Albertina offers virtual visitors the opportunity to climb the ceremonial staircase and see its magnificent rooms or browse the online catalogue of works of art at: https://sammlungenonline.albertina.at/.
Or through the free application https://artivive.com/albertina-de/, just click on one of the pictures.
More information on opening hours, ticket prices and the possibility of a combined visit to both galleries can be found at: www.albertina.at
Albertina, Albertinaplatz 1, 1010 Vienna
Albertina Modern, Karlsplatz 5, 1010 Vienna
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri