Friday, May 27th 2016
Today is our only full day in Vienna and we therefore need to make the most of it. We have planned to make three visits today, which should fill up our time nicely but without overburdening ourselves.
Our first destination was in Feldmühlgasse, over in the western side of the city. We arrived too early but that enabled us to have breakfast in a branch of Bäckerei Schwarz nearby. We had come to visit what is still called ‘Klimt Villa’ because the artist Gustav Klimt lived in a cottage on the site from 1911 until his death in 1918. A later owner built the present villa on top of Klimt’s house and studio, so the artist would literally not recognize it as his home if he could return. Officially called Klimt Villa Wien, the house is now open to the public.
Not knowing what to look for, we had some difficulty finding the house in Feldmühlgasse but were shown it by a postman who had mail to deliver there. The villa opens at 10 am and as we were early, we had to wait. All was quiet with no sign of activity within and when the clock ticked slowly to 10 am and the ticked on past it, we began to wonder whether we were on a wild goose chase. Then a young man appeared on a bicycle, somewhat flustered to find people waiting to be admitted. He let us in and we could explore.
The exhibition occupies both the lower and upper floor, which is slightly ironic in view of the fact that Klimt’s cottage was a single-storey building.
We were somewhat bemused by the exhibition, not being sure whether anything we could see really had anything to do with Klimt. Stuck in a corner was a tiny porcelain bath. There was no notice saying that Klimt ever used it and I doubt whether he did.
We saw a reconstruction of the artist’s studio and another room, presumably his living room. As for the authenticity of the decor and furniture, I can only quote the Website:
The original rooms of the last atelier of Gustav Klimt in the Feldmühlgasse, Number 11 in Hietzing were identified after scrupulous investigations and were restored to their historical condition – right down to the wall colors and surfaces. We wanted to revive the atmosphere and décor that must have prevailed in the studios from 1911 to 1918. Furniture reconstruction in the waiting room and studios was carried out with reliance on photos by Moriz Nähr and available samples of furnishings (for example, carpets). In other rooms of the atelier, various media – old newspapers, etc. – provide information about significant models and “clients” from this period of Klimt’s creativity.
There were paintings and sketches of Klimt on display though all were reproductions and it would not be reasonable to expect otherwise since the original works have all been bought up by museums, galleries and collectors.
The young curator who had admitted us was helpful and spent some time with us talking about Klimt and the house. I intend no disrespect to him in saying that we were somewhat disappointed by the visit. Perhaps we had expected too much.
We returned towards the centre again and emerged at the station at Karlsplatz. We stopped off in the attached cafe for iced tea, our stand-by drink in hot weather.
The station, then part of the Stadtbahn and now the U-Bahn, was designed by Otto Wagner and Joseph Maria Olbrich as an example of Jugendstil architecture. Dating from 1899 it also has connections with the Vienna Secession Movement, about which there will be more later.
In the nearby Resselpark, we admired the monument to composer Johannes Brahms. It was made in 1908 by the Austrian sculptor Rudolf Weyr (later Rudold Ritter von Meyr), mentioned by me yesterday in connection with Peterskirche. Though Brahms (1833-97) was German, and born in Hamburg, he spent many of his productive years in Vienna.
Beside Karlsplatz stands the great domed Baroque Karlskirche or Church of St Charles. Designed by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656-1723), it was completed, after his death, in 1737. After the last of the plague epidemics, Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI commissioned the church and dedicated it to St Charles Borromeo, revered for giving aid to plague sufferers in Milan in the 16th century.
In front of the church is a large ornamental lake in which stands a sculpture. Entitled Hill Arches, it is by Henry Moore and was created for the square in 1973.
Our second visit was to this beautiful and striking structure with its remarkable golden dome. Much criticized when it was built in 1887 (designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich) it is now regarded as one of Vienna’s most treasured buildings. It is called the Wiener Secessionsgebäude or Vienna Secession Building. and was built as an exhibition hall for the Vienna Secession group of artists, one of whose prominent members with Gustav Klimt.
The decorative scheme and the whole design have much in common with the Art Nouveau movement though the Secessionists were a distinct group working with their own ideas of art and design. The building bears the legend Ver Sacrum (‘Sacred Spring’) which was the name of the art magazine that the group published between 1898 and 1903 to ‘publicize their programmatic ideas about the integration of different media and an art imbuing every aspect of life with aesthetic value’ (Museum information board).
In the climate-controlled basement of the building is a large mural by Gustav Klimt. It is known as the Beethoven Frieze and is Klimt’s attempt to render Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony through the medium of paint.
The Secession movement emphasized Gesamtkunstwerk – art works in mixed media – and as well as painting and sculpture influenced literature, printing, graphics, architecture and design. Its impact is still felt today. For more information, see, for example, the Wikipedia article, Vienna Secession.
The Secession Building operates partly as a museum of the Secession movement and partly as a gallery of modern art. During our visit, work by three artists, Oliver Laric, Gerald Domenig and James Lee Byars, was on show. To be honest, none of this made much of an impact on me but one work brought an echo of Klimt’s Frieze. You see it above. It is by Oliver Laric and is a Photoplastic (I think that is an artifact in plastic made by scanning a 3D object) of a sculpture of Beethoven made by Max Klinger in 1902.
Above is Laric’s set of sphinxes for comparison.
The above picture shows the entrance to the Vienna Secession Building. The gallery was busy with people coming and going all the time. It was only as we were leaving that there was a brief moment when I could capture the entrance without people in the way.
Tigger had done her research and found that there were three vegetarian restaurants in Vienna. A choice of three was pretty good and more than we usually find. Our experience, however, proved why you should not count your chickens (even vegetarian chickens) before they hatch. We found two of the restaurants closed and when we entered the third we were asked snootily whether we had reserved and then turned away as we had not. I wasn’t too unhappy about this as the place was obviously ‘posh’ with prices to match. In the event we found an ‘ordinary’ restaurant nearby where we were amiably received and advised as to what items on the menu were vegetarian.
And so to our third visit of the day which was to the Wien Uhrenmuseum. That’s Clock Museum to you and me; well, to me, anyway. This, for me, was the highlight of our visits, fascinated by clocks as I am. The Uhrenmuseum has a large collection (about 1,000) of clocks, watches and other horological devices dating from the 15th century to the present day. Viennese timepiece manufacture is of course a special subject within the whole. The display is organized in time order, subdivided by type of device, so you can, in a sense, wander through time, something which is rather appropriate in a clock museum.
The museum building was opened in 1921 and was built on medieval foundations. It is vertical rather than horizontal (bad news if you find stairs difficult), being spread over several floors accessed by delightfully squeaky stairs and creaky swing doors.
How do I give you a good portrait of the museum? The answer is that I cannot. I think this would need a lavishly illustrated and professionally written large-format book. Ho hum. I will just show you a few items that caught my eye, though these can in no way be considered ‘representative’ of such a large whole. If you love clocks, just go to the Uhrenmuseum!
Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral) has a magnificent tower but the tower has no clock. Not today, anyway. The fourth and last clock was removed during refurbishment in the 19th century. The above wonderful piece of machinery is the movement of that last clock and was installed in 1699. It was the first of the clocks to possess a hand to indicate minutes. Previous clocks had only had hour hands.
Many clocks are lavishly decorated and as well as telling the time, they were intended to decorate the home and show off the owner’s wealth.
This curious piece of work is an astronomical clock showing the time, planetary positions and the calendars of different faiths and cultures including the new calendar introduced in France after the French Revolution. The label says it resembles a winged altarpiece though to me it looks rather like a priest in vestments with arms spread out. Either would be appropriate as the man who made it was a Catholic priest.
Decorative clocks often show movement in addition to that required to keep time and play chimes. This gallant military gentleman on his steed does not move as far as I know apart from his eyes, hence the type-name ‘moving-eye’.
If clocks can contain art work, then art can also contain a clock! It is common for clock faces to be painted in patterns or to show a picture but those of which the above is an example are a cut above that. They consist of a painting, usually in oils, done by a professional painter, in which there appears a clock. The clock in not an artifact of paint but is a real working clock. The scene depicted above is a somewhat fanciful view showing King Charles I of England, accompanied by sundry other persons, just before his execution.
This is obviously a traditional wooden cuckoo clock. Unfortunately, I neglected to record any details about it so I do not know its age or provenance. It is a beautiful example of the kind, though, with little objects carved from wood placed among foliage all around the clock. I just wish I could have heard the cuckoo’s voice.
Incidentally, while some clocks were in working order and showed the time, those that were not working were all set to a time of 10 past 10. It is traditional in the clock industry to set still clocks to this time. I am not sure of the reason though I have heard it said that with the hands in this position, the clock seems to smile!
On the way back to the hotel, we passed in front of a well known and very fine building with a green dome, built 1729-35. It is the famous Spanish Riding School, Spanische Hofreitschule in German. I have ridden on horseback twice in my life (and I was thrown on the first occasion), so I am clearly not one to talk about equestrian matters. To learn more, see here and other online sources.
This is one of the sculptures in front of the Riding School. It’s by Rudolf Weyr and is entitled (with variations according to who translates it), Power on the Sea. I couldn’t begin to analyse it and explain the parts though I am pretty sure that the figure lower left is meant to be Neptune.
We returned to the hotel for tea and a rest and later decided to go out for a tram ride. There was a tram route that passed in front of the hotel which made it all the more convenient. We got off the tram at the terminus at Scottentor U-Bahn station, looked around a bit and took some photos.
My last photo of the day was this distance shot of the Neo-Gothic Votivkirche (Votive Church) completed in 1879. It’s called the Votive Church because it was built as a votive offering to the deity for saving the life of Emperor Franz Joseph when the latter survived an assassination attempt by Hungarian nationalist János Libényi on 18 February 1853. (It would look better without the massive advertising hoarding in front of it.)
And so (as Samuel Pepys might have said but didn’t) to the hotel and bed. Tomorrow we return to London.