Three years ago, you would have had to drag me to see an exhibition in an art museum. Three months ago, I had just learnt about Dutch Golden Age painters like Hendrick Avercamp, Pieter de Hooch and Aert van der Neer. Three weeks ago, I had not heard of Lucian Freud and was only familiar with his grandfather’s Oedipus complex theory. 

I dreaded art classes as a child and I suspect this left me with a long bitter impression – okay, that’s an exaggeration – about art in general. My interest in (European) art was piqued only in recent times, after my move to Europe (home to some of the world’s best art collections) and meeting people who are passionate about art and talk about it in an uncomplicated way. Well, better late than never!

Prior to my recent, and first ever, trip to Vienna, I was almost sure that I wouldn’t like the city. I thought that Vienna is antiquated, overly decorated, boring and with little to hold my interest. After my visit, I stand corrected and am now a fan of its laid-back coffee house culture and impressed by what little I’ve seen of its museums. I still don’t think I can appreciate opera though!

I was in Vienna for work and had only a few hours of free time. With some planning, I went to the excellent Lucian Freud exhibition at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Alongside 43 of his works on display were video interviews of him which were interesting to watch to see how he worked and expressed himself in words. It was impressive to see up close the details, brush strokes and colours in his paintings which span almost seven decades from 1943 to 2011, the year he passed away.

The exhibition ends on 6 January 2014. If you need any further convincing to see it if you happen to be in Vienna, this piece in the Financial Times should do the job.

Lucian Freud: Self-portrait 1956 (unfinished)
Lucian Freud: Self-portrait 1956 (unfinished)
Lucian Freud02 - pregnant girl & baby on green sofak64
Left: Pregnant girl (1960-61), of his lover, Bernardine Coverley, who was carrying their first daughter, Bella
Right: Baby on a green sofa (1961), a tender portrait of little Bella, who is probably the youngest person Freud ever painted
Lucian Freud03 - Nude w leg up (Leigh Bowery)k64c
Nude with leg up (1992), Leigh Bowery was a prominent figure in London’s club scene in the 1980s-1990s and was the first professional model to sit for Freud

I enjoyed the exhibition so much that I bought a copy of Man with a Blue Scarf by Martin Gayford, who sat for him, so that I could learn more about Freud. I’ve always believed that a portrait tells you as much about the person in the image as it does for the painter him/herself.

While I was at Kunsthistorisches Museum, I also viewed some of its permanent collection of major European art works – which includes Vermeer’s The Art of Painting and Bruegel’s Children’s Games amongst pieces by Titian, Rubens and Rembrandt. Courtesy of the Google Art project, you can easily view some of the museum’s masterpieces here. Below are details from some of the paintings that I like:

Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Der Kampf zwischen Karneval und Fasten 1559k64
Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Der Kampf zwischen Karneval und Fasten / Fight between Carnival and Lent (1559) – fat Carnival fights skinny Lent
Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Die Kinderspiele 1560 01k64
Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Die Kinderspiele / Children’s Games (1560) – where more than 230 children are depicted as playing 83 games!
Pieter de Hooch's Frau mit kind und dienstmagd 1663k64
Pieter de Hooch: Frau mit kind und dienstmagd / Woman and child with serving maid (1663) – love how the hints of gold here, from the flames to the threads in the baby girl’s frock
David III Ryckaert's Freuden der Bauern' (Kirmes) 1649 01k64
David III Ryckaert: Freuden der Bauern (Kirmes) / Joys of farmers (Fair) (1649) – am intrigued by how the little boys are rolling over each other while looking somewhat intoxicated
Vermeer's The Art of Painting04k64
Johannes Vermeer: The Art of Painting (1665/66) – one of the museum’s most famous paintings, I was quite happy to admire it without having to tiptoe to peek over a sea of shoulders

I also visited – for free on Tuesday evening – the Museum for Applied Arts (MAK), which carries a relatively small but impressive collection such as Klimt’s nine-part sketch for the Stoclet House mosaic frieze and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh’s gorgeous Seven Princesses gesso panel. I especially enjoyed the works on display in the Secession era room and definitely would like to visit the Secession museum the next time I’m back!

Gustav Klimt: Nine-panel drawing in preparation for the frieze for the dining room of Stoclet house in Brussels (1910-1911) - fascinating to see the details of this work, as well as to see Klimt's pencil scribblings
Gustav Klimt: Nine-panel drawing in preparation for the frieze for the dining room of Stoclet house in Brussels (1910-1911) – fascinating to see the details of this work, as well as to see Klimt’s pencil scribblings
Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh: The Seven Princesses (1906) - the frieze was inspired by a fairy tale by Maurice Maeterlinck for the music salon in the Waerndorfer House in Glasgow
Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh: The Seven Princesses (1906) – the frieze was inspired by a fairy tale by Maurice Maeterlinck for the music salon in the Waerndorfer House in Glasgow
Koloman Moser Ver Sacrum: Poster for the 13th Secession exhibition (1902)
Koloman Moser Ver Sacrum: Poster for the 13th Secession exhibition (1902)

MAK is also hosting a temporary exhibition of Austrian painter and graphic artist, Franz von Zülow‘s, works on paper. All quite vivid and charming.

Franz von Zulow: Wallpaper design of a village (1913)
Franz von Zulow: Wallpaper design of a village (1913)
Franz von Zulow: Design for a glass window (1904)
Franz von Zulow: Design for a glass window (1904)
Franz von Zulow - 1927 depiction of a village using Indian ink, watercolours, paper stencil print and stippling technique
Franz von Zulow – 1927 depiction of a village using Indian ink, watercolours, paper stencil print and stippling technique

With all this amazing and inspiring art that the city has to offer – for instance, I can’t wait to also see Egon Schiele’s works at the Leopold Museum – Vienna demands a return visit.

Grab a seat.Chairs01,4k64

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14 replies on “Exploring Vienna, Discovering Art

    1. : ) I’m sure I’ll enjoy Schiele’s works! It’s great fun to examine Bruegel’s paintings and all the details that he managed to captured in them – one can only imagine his thought process!

  1. Oh you did quite well with only a few hours to spare! Freud is one of my very favourite artists and I was rather emotional when I visited this exhibition last year in London. I am very happy for you to have discovered him, one really must see the paintings close up to grasp his mastery! Not to mention Bruegel the Elder! Can’t wait to read about your next visit; and Schiele…

    1. Yup, fully agree – it’s amazing how different a painting is in real life vs. seeing it on the computer/ in a book. Absolutely fascinating to be able to marvel at the details : )

      I’ve convinced my boyfriend that Vienna is quite interesting so maybe we’ll be able to make our way over in warmer days, when we can also sit out in the vineyards for a picnic in the outskirts of the city!

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