2018 was the year in which Vienna celebrated Modernism and four of its most important artists, all of whom died in 1918. Numerous exhibitions at art museums in Vienna and events across the city remembered the work of the painters Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, the architect Otto Wagner and the universal artist Koloman Moser.
The tourism boards of Austria and Vienna invited me to come and have a look. After my introduction with the Viennese Waltz last year, how could I not also dive into this important part of Viennese history?
Below you'll find out more about Viennese Modernism but also about some of the best museums in Vienna.
- Art museums in Vienna and Viennese Modernism in architecture
- Celebrating Modernism in Vienna with Klimt, Schiele, Wagner, and Moser
- Modernism in the museums of Vienna and out in the streets
- 1. The Leopold Museum
- 2. Kunsthistorisches Museum / Museum of Fine Arts
- 3. Sigmund Freud and Viennese Modernism: a city tour
- 4. Visit of the Vienna Secession
- 5. Go on your own Otto Wagner tour
- 6. Visit the Upper and Lower Belvedere castle
- Read more about Modernism in Vienna
- The Vienna City Card
- Where to stay in Vienna: Hotel Schani Wien
- How to get to Vienna
- Pin for later
Art museums in Vienna and Viennese Modernism in architecture
Celebrating Modernism in Vienna with Klimt, Schiele, Wagner, and Moser
So who exactly were these artists that Vienna was celebrating in 2018?
Known as the founder of Vienna’s Art Nouveau movement, Gustav Klimt was born in Vienna in July 1862. He started out his career creating decorative paintings and shifted his focus to portrait paintings as his skill developed. His portraits were in fact so distinguished and celebrated that he became the portrait painter for many wealthy individuals in 1900’s Viennese society.
Klimt's notable contribution to the Vienna art scene came with his involvement in acting as a founding member and taking on the role as the first president of the Vienna Secession. This philosophical and artistic movement was made up of painters, sculptors, and architects looking to move outside the realms of traditional academic art in order to embrace their own unique styles.
The motto on the building where the Secession artwork was displayed reads Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit: “To every time its art. To every art its freedom”.
Best known for bringing expressionism along with stark, twisted depictions of the human body in an artistic form to Vienna, Egon Schiele was born in Tulln an der Donau (Lower Austria) in June 1890. After moving into his own studio in Vienna at the age of 17, Schiele met Gustav Klimt.
He was drawn to the older artist’s attitude towards art and freedom of expression and Klimt and Schiele became friends. This friendship was beneficial to Schiele, as Klimt gave him the opportunity to display his artwork throughout the city.
Schiele attracted quite a bit of attention and lived under the wing of scandal because of his paintings of young boys and girls in the nude. Seeing the works now, you realize he was walking a thin line between artistic representation and something much less innocent.
His works of this nature led to his imprisonment when he was falsely accused of abducting one young woman. After his prison sentence of three days was lived out, he decided to shift his focus toward the creation of portrait paintings of more “suitable” clientele. Again the influence of Klimt is noticeable here.
Prior to his death in 1918, Schiele experienced a career high with the sale of almost all of his 50 paintings and sketches displayed in the 49th Vienna Secession exhibition.
His best-known works include “Portrait of Wally” and his “Self-Portrait with Physalis”, both of which can be seen at the Leopold Museum in Vienna to this day.
Born in July 1841 in Vienna, Otto Wagner made his mark on the city with his revolutionary architectural designs. His creations aren't just museums pieces, but fully functional buildings that co-shape Vienna's appearance. Many would say Wagner’s visionary approach to architecture is the paving stone to modern architecture.
Throughout his years, he was a teacher, student, urban planner, architect, and designer. Even though some of his winning designs never went into production, Wagner’s designs were revolutionary as he was the first to step away from historical architecture, instead looking to combine function with modern materials.
He even successfully self-published volumes of his building designs and sketches throughout his career – in 1890, 1897, 1906, and 1922.
Some of his most famous works include the City Railway (Wiener Stadtbahn), the Austrian Postal Savings Bank (Postsparkasse), and the Church at Steinhof, and these can be visited in Vienna today.
Koloman Moser was born in March 1868 in Vienna. After both studying and lecturing on graphic design at Vienna’s Kunstgewerbeschule, he too joined the Vienna Secession after which he helped found the Wiener Werkstätte, the longest-lived design movement of the 20th century which focused on artistic freedom in the design space.
Moser’s personal style focused on using new, industrial materials but with craftsmanship at the helm. In other words, no mass production, but modern design, function, and flow for each piece. His creations included everything from stamps and textiles to furniture and jewelry.
Later in his career, Moser also started to paint.
Modernism in the museums of Vienna and out in the streets
1. The Leopold Museum
The Leopold Museum is located in Vienna's MuseumsQuartier and named after ophthalmologist Rudolf Leopold. He bought his first Egon Schiele painting in 1950 when he was still a student and went on to collect no less than 5266 paintings of 19th-century and Modernist Austrian artists.
Worth €574 million if he'd sold them all individually, Leopold sold his collection to the Austrian state for only €160 million. It was the start of the Leopold Museum, which eventually opened in 2001.
Today, the white limestone building holds the largest collection of works by Egon Schiele in the world. We're talking about 41 Schiele paintings and 188 graphics, as well as manuscripts.
A few other artists whose work is on display at the Leopold Museum are Oskar Kokoschka, Gustav Klimt, Adolf Loos, and Otto Wagner.
The museum houses a permanent collection and also hosts changing thematic exhibitions. Two of those I went to see.
Vienna around 1900! Klimt – Moser – Gerstl – Kokoschka
To celebrate the Viennese Modernism anniversary year, the Leopold Museum created an exhibition that reads like a “best of” of Viennese art around 1900. Some of the most important works of Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Richard Gerstl, and Oskar Kokoschka were on display.
That exhibition has now ended but there's a new one around the birth of Modernism in Vienna that currently has no end date.
Egon Schiele. The Jubilee show
“Egon Schiele. The Jubilee Show” offers insight into the work of this important Austrian Expressionist by dividing it into themes, such as the self, the ego, mother and child, spirituality, women, landscapes, cities, and portraits. Chronology is left aside, as are medium boundaries. On display are a mix of Schiele drawings, paintings, letters, photographs, and sketches. The works are drawn from the museum's permanent collection and complemented by borrowed pieces from international collections.
This exhibition has now ended.
Having known Schiele only by name before going on this trip, I returned home a fan after having visited this exhibition. I'm not going to start a wild interpretative reasoning here – I don't have the background for that – so let me just say that his work spoke to me. It's rather dark, but it felt very honest.
Next time I'm in Vienna, I might go back and spend a bit more time at the Leopold Museum.
Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Vienna
2. Kunsthistorisches Museum / Museum of Fine Arts
The Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) or Vienna museum of Fine Arts opened in 1891 as the place to hold and showcase the massive collection of art gathered by the Habsburg dynasty over time. It's one of the most impressive in the world and covers Ancient Egyptian art, Antique Greek and Roman art, Medieval art, Renaissance art, and Baroque art.
I only visited the Kunsthistorisches Museum to see the “Stairway to Klimt” and also had a coffee at the beautiful museum café.
Stairway to Klimt. Eye to Eye with Klimt + “Nuda Veritas”
Before Gustav Klimt changed directions and became known as the founder of the Vienna Secession and a pioneer of Viennese modern art, he created his internationally popular Jugendstil works. One of the most important commissions he got during that time of his life, was to decorate the large staircase at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. If you're looking for Klimt art in Vienna, this piece is a must-see.
Especially for the celebrations of Modernism in Vienna, the Museum of Fine Arts built a giant bridge so that visitors could get a closer look at Klimt’s high-up wall paintings. Normally, you can only see these from 12 meters below. The paintings all showcase periods in history and are a true testament of Klimt’s talent.
Klimt didn't paint the staircase alone, though, and he wasn't the first artist to be asked for the job either. At the time, he worked in a collective together with his younger brother Ernst and their school friend Franz Match. They got the commission after three other artists first started the monumental work but couldn't finish it (two because they died, one because he got another job before the entire surface was finished).
The staircase has now been removed again but you can still see the work of art as it's part of the museum.
Practical information on visiting the Kunsthistorisches Museum
Burgring 5, 1010 Vienna
The Kunsthistorisches museum is free with the Vienna Pass.
It's also possible to buy a combination ticket for the Kunsthistorisches Museums and the Imperial Treasury.
3. Sigmund Freud and Viennese Modernism: a city tour
Although Freud, the famous founder of psychoanalysis, isn't technically celebrated in 2018, he can't be seen separately from the Modernist movement and so the Freud Museum has put together a tour that places Freud and his work in the larger context of Viennese science and society.
The tour starts at the Freud Museum, located in the building where Freud worked and lived for 47 years until he fled to London when the Nazis took over Vienna. The museum has a permanent exhibition that consists of film material, photos, and original objects placed in the rooms where Freud developed psychoanalysis.
There's also a room that's dedicated to temporary exhibitions. When I was there, it focused on Freud's friends and others who influenced his life and work.
After we'd seen the museum, we headed into the Ninth District to visit places where Freud studied, saw patients, met friends and compared notes with fellow professionals: mansion houses and coffeehouses on the Ringstrasse Boulevard, the University of Vienna and the former site of Vienna General Hospital.
While the tour normally lasts around three to four hours and goes very much into detail, it is also possible to get a shorter, more general version on request. That's what we did and I felt the hour-and-a-half we got was perfect to get an overview of how Freud evolved as a scientist, what moved him to develop psychoanalysis and what his place was in social and academic circles at the time.
Our guide was very knowledgeable and happy to answer any questions we had. She designed this tour herself and you could tell she's put a great deal of research into it.
You definitely don't need to know about psychology or anything to enjoy it either, as Freud's biography is interwoven with interesting stories and fun facts about Vienna and other prominent figures of his time.
Berggasse 19, 1090 Vienna
Check the website for up-to-date opening times and prices.
The tour can be booked individually by emailing museum[at]freud-museum.at and includes entry to the museum.
4. Visit of the Vienna Secession
In 1897, Gustav Klimt and a number of other artists quit the conservative Künstlerhaus and founded a new art association called the Secession for the Secession movement they'd started. The Art Nouveau exhibition building of the same name was completed in 1898 after the city administration had made a site available on Wienzeile near Naschmarkt.
It was constructed by Joseph Maria Olbrich and remains one of the most famous buildings in Vienna to this day. The leaf-work dome (“golden cabbage”) is the symbol of the Secession and visible from afar. At the time, the building caused a big fuss among the population who didn't feel for it.
The golden dome was being renovated when I was there but can now be seen again on the roof of the Secessionist Museum Vienna from June 2018 onward. As the entire building was wrapped up when I was there, I sourced a stock image for you to have an idea of what it looks like (above).
The façade of the Secession displays the Secessionist movement's motto, “For every time its art. For art its freedom”, and it's in line with this motto that the museum until this day hosts international exhibitions that explore the boundaries of existing art forms. This makes the Secession “the oldest independent exhibition space dedicated explicitly to contemporary art” (Secession brochure).
The best-known work and one that's now permanently on display at the Secession is the Beethoven Frieze. Gustav Klimt created this large wall painting for the 14th exhibition of the Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession, held between April 15 and June 27, 1902.
Friedrichstraße 12, 1010 Wien
Check the website for up-to-date opening times and entry fees.
5. Go on your own Otto Wagner tour
If you're not that much into museums or think the weather's too nice to be inside, you can always put together your own Otto Wagner architecture tour. That's what we did! There are many Otto Wagner buildings all over Vienna. Here's our selection.
1. Art Nouveau houses on Linke Wienzeile
At the Linker Wienzeile near the Vienna Naschmarkt, you can spot two apartment buildings by Otto Wagner. Number 38 features golden ornaments by Koloman Moser while the colorful number 40 is also known as the Majolikahaus, named after the Spanish tile tradition.
Linke Wienzeile 38 and 40, 1060 Wien
2. Otto Wagner Pavilion in Hietzing
As you may notice when traveling through the city, all of Vienna's subways have two exits, but the one at Schönbrunner Schlossstrasse can only be exited on one side. That's because the other side was built specifically for the emperor. He used it only twice, and it is now a museum.
Wagner designed more than just this one pavilion for Vienna's public transportation system, though. All the stations, railings and bridges of the former Stadtbahn (today the U4 and U6) are by his hand.
Schönbrunner Schlossstrasse, 1130 Wenen
You can visit the Otto Wagner Pavilion for free with the Vienna Pass
3. Otto Wagner Villas
The Otto Wagner Villa I at Hüttelbergstrasse 26 was designed by Wagner to serve as a residential home for him and his family. It now houses the Ernst Fuchs Museum, but the front yard is freely accessible and offers a good look on the house as well as on some structures added by Fuchs in later years.
The Otto Wagner Villa II to the left of the Ernst Fuchs Museum when facing it is currently a private home. It can only be seen from the street. This Villa also served as a home to Wagner and his wife, but after his kids had left the house and he felt like he needed to move into something smaller.
Hüttelbergstraße 26, 1140 Wien
4. The “Weisse Stadt” or White city with the Kirche am Steinhof (Steinhof Church) and the Otto Wagner Hospital
In Vienna's 14th district, you can find the White City. Built as a psychiatric hospital with 12 Art Nouveau pavilions, it once functioned as a self-sufficient town. Aside from the hospital, the White City also boasts the St. Leopold's Church (also known as the Steinhof Church or Otto Wagner Church), an Art Nouveau theater, a farm, a nursery, a laundry, a post office, a library and it even used to have a shuttle.
The grounds have recently been bought up by a project developer and as the hospital will close over summer, its buildings will be turned into a mix of residential homes, scientific, educational, health and cultural institutions. The church will remain as it is.
Baumgartner Höhe 1, 1140 Wien
Note: the Kirche am Steinhof opening hours are very limited. It is only accessible on Saturday afternoons between 4 and 5 p.m. while taking a guided tour.
5. The Österreichische Postsparkasse
The Imperial-Royal Post Office Savings Bank was built by Wagner between 1904 and 1912 by Otto Wagner. He also designed the interior architecture and furniture. The façade is covered with weatherproof granite and marble, and also aluminium – new for its time – is used inside and out: for example, on the railings and the figurines on the roof, the fittings on the door and the warm-air dispensers in the hall.
The Otto Wagner post office is still open.
Georg-Coch-Platz 2, 1010 Wien
6. Visit the Upper and Lower Belvedere castle
The Upper and Lower Belvedere palace date back to the 18th century, when they were built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy. Today, the Upper Belvedere houses Austrian art from the Middle Ages to the present day, including the world's largest Gustav Klimt paintings collection.
“The Kiss”, Klimt's world-renowned painting, has even lead to an annual competition during which people can send in their Kiss Photo to win a trip to Vienna and the Belvedere Museum.
While I only had time to check out “The Kiss” painting at the Upper Belvedere palace and museum during my last trip to Vienna, I did check out all the exhibition rooms at the Lower Belvedere, where temporary exhibitions compete for your attention with stately rooms such as the Marble Gallery and the Golden Room.
Klimt is not the end. Awakening in Central Europe
After the deaths of Klimt, Moser, Wagner, and Schiele, what came next for Vienna’s blossoming modern art world? This temporary exhibition at the Lower Belvedere Palace focused on this new era of artists in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and how the World Wars, politics and international connections all molded that art scene. Visitors could enjoy 80 works by artists including Klimt, Schiele, and Moser as well as artists that came after them.
This exhibition has now ended.
Practical information Upper and Lower Belvedere museums
Rennweg 6, 1030 Vienna
Check the website for up to date opening times and prices or join this tour of the Belvedere.
If you'd rather visit the Belvedere by yourself, it's good to know that entry is free with the Vienna Pass.
The Belvedere Gardens are freely accessible.
Read more about Modernism in Vienna
The Vienna City Card
The Vienna City Card is available for 24, 48, and 72 hours and including or excluding public transportation.
It offers discounts to more than 210 tourist attractions, including museums, concerts, shops, and restaurants.
You can buy it here but I personally find the Vienna Pass more interesting as it offers not just discounts but complete free access to some of the places mentioned above and many more.
Where to stay in Vienna: Hotel Schani Wien
This time, I stayed at the super cool Hotel Schani Wien. This hotel combines modern technology with old Viennese coffee culture with a coworking area as well as a lobby and lounge area where you can sip coffee, read the newspaper and, well, get some work done. When the weather's nice, you can also sit in the hotel garden.
Hotel Schani uses apps to make your stay more comfortable, but not to avoid talking to their guests. Thanks to the mobile check-in and check-out you're in and out in no time and because you can unlock your room with your mobile room key, you don't need to worry about keeping a physical key safe (or lugging it around).
Digitizing these things gives the staff more time to help guests with their individual needs and questions.
Breakfast comes in buffet form and runs from 6.30-10 (11 on the weekends) in the morning, but if you need to leave even earlier, you can ask them to put a takeaway breakfast together for you.
Also want to stay at Hotel Schani Wien?
Check here for more reviews, prices and availability.
How to get to Vienna
I flew directly from Brussels Airport to Vienna Airport and took a train from there into the city center. Vienna has an international airport welcoming flights from many destinations. Check Skyscanner for a good overview of flight options and prices.
If you're rather taken straight to your hotel, consider booking a private airport transfer. It's also possible to book a departure transfer from your hotel.
It's also possible to take the train from other places in Austria or from big nearby cities like Budapest. Look here for train timetables and prices within Europe.
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I was a guest of the Austria and Vienna tourism board on this trip. As always when I do collaborations like this one, I only share my own personal opinion on here.