13 Masterpieces You Can Find Only in Vienna

The perfect mix of imperial art, modern thinking and experimental genius all in one city

Most cities are lucky to have produced one artistic genius. Vienna has supplied the world with hundreds.

Below, we’ll go on a journey through Vienna’s grandest museums, opera houses, and palaces. Along the way, we’ll encounter just a few of this city’s immortal treasures.

1 Venus of Willendorf
The World’s Oldest Artwork?

Discovered in a small Austrian town in the early 1900s, the 11-centimeter tall statue Venus of Willendorf was most likely created around 21,000 BCE. That makes this statue one of the oldest surviving artworks in the Western world.

Cast Of The Willendorf Venus (From the collection of Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)

Since they didn’t really keep records during the Paleolithic Era, archeologists guess this limestone statue represents a fertility goddess. Today, the Venus of Willendorf is displayed in Vienna’s Natural History Museum.

Natural History Museum of Vienna

2 An Eye Doctor to The Rescue
How Vienna Got Egon Schiele’s Paintings

Vienna has a local ophthalmologist to thank for preserving thousands of Modernist masterpieces. While Dr. Rudolf Leopold was a student in the 1950s, he started collecting works by the painter Egon Schiele. By 1994, Dr. Leopold had amassed over 5,000 Modernist paintings valued at a whopping $500 million.

Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant, Egon Schiele, 1912 (From the collection of Leopold Museum)

Luckily for us, Dr. Leopold decided to give his collection the Austrian government for a very generous fee. Now visitors can see Schiele’s classic Self-Portrait With Physalis and other chef d’oeuvres at the Leopold Museum.

3 Klimt
The Viennese Kiss Worth Waiting For

Gustav Klimt’s 1908 painting The Kiss is one of the iconic works of Modern European Art, but it’s surprisingly multicultural. Klimt incorporated a wide variety of styles into this golden painting ranging from Ancient Egyptian to French sculpture and, most prominently, Byzantine mosaics.

The Kiss, Gustav Klimt, 1908-1909 (From the collection of Belvedere)

Despite its universal theme, however, Klimt’s work is also a personal expression of his love for Emile Flöge. Klimt’s Kiss is now in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere.

Belvedere, Vienna

Even though Klimt said he believed Death and Life was his best work upon its completion in 1911, he couldn’t stop tweaking it for four more years. If you look closely at this painting at the Leopold Museum, you can still see the original gold background Klimt overlaid with blacks and greys.

Gustav Klimt’s Death and Life, Gustav Klimt, 1910 (From the collection of Leopold Museum)

4 Burgtheater
Tradition Breeds Experimentation

Vienna is known for its exquisite works of art, which extends to the stage. The Burgtheater is the is noted as one of the most prestigious German language theaters, being the second oldest theater with a reputation for experimental plays which are sure to make morning headlines.

Ensemble in the play "Radetzky March" based on the novel by Joseph Roth (From the collection of Burgtheater)

No visit to Vienna is complete without an evening at ‘die burg’.

Ensemble; Michael Wächter, Aenne Schwarz, Barbara Horvath; Martin Wuttke, Roland Koch, Simon Zagermann, Caroline Peters in the play "Hotel Strindberg" by Simon Stone based on August Strindberg, August Strindberg, 2018 (From the collection of Burgtheater)

Don’t let the traditional appearance throw you off – this theater is known to turn heads with its contemporary works on stage. Have a quick view of what it’s like inside.

Burgtheater, Vienna

5 Master or Madman?
Visiting Freud’s Enduring Legacy

Although Dr. Sigmund Freud famously disliked Vienna, he also suffered from crippling travel phobia. Even after the Nazis raided his home at Berggasse 19, Freud was determined to stay in his Viennese apartment/therapy studio. It took a great deal of convincing to get Freud to flee to London when he was in his 80s.

Entrance to the Sigmund Freud Museum (From the collection of Sigmund Freud Museum)

Luckily, Freud’s apartment was unscathed by World War II and it now serves as a major museum.

View waiting room (From the collection of Sigmund Freud Museum)

6 MAK
Conceptual Art for Progressive Thinkers

The same city that brought us Freud, brought us thought-provoking art. The MAK Museum of Applied Arts has seen over 150 years of modern conceptual thinking.

MAK – Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art, Vienna

This museum is a forerunner in contemporary art and has earned its place as one of the most progressive museums in the city. If you are in Vienna for an opening at the MAK, you’ve earned your way into the hearts of the Viennese art scene.

AIGA, by Stefan Sagmeister, 1999 (From the collection of MAK - Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art)

7 Raphael
An Italian in Vienna

Shortly after Italian Renaissance master Raphael completed his Madonna in the Meadow in 1506 he gave it to one of his friends. This masterpiece eventually got into the hands of the Austrian Royal Family and was added to Belvedere Gallery’s collection in 1773.

Madonna in the Meadow, Raphael, 1505/1506 (From the collection of Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien)

Since this painting was held in Vienna’s Belvedere for so long some art textbooks still refer to it as the Belvedere Madonna. That’s rather inconvenient for tourists because the “Belvedere Madonna” is now hanging in the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien, Vienna

8 Schönbrunn Palace
It’s Not Just About the Habsburgs

With origins dating back to the late 1500s, Schönbrunn Palace was used as the summer palace of the Austro-Hungarian Empire Habsburg royals. The architecture, paintings, and ceiling frescoes are textbook examples of Baroque and crystalize a time when this royal family dominated European politics.

Maria Theresa in a Blue Gown (From the collection of Schönbrunn Palace)

But Schönbrunn isn’t all about the Habsburgs. Believe it or not, the British used this palace near the end of World War II as a military headquarters.

Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna

9 Austrian National Library
A View of the World

Speaking of Schönbrunn, did you know the same architect behind the Habsburg’s grand summer palace (Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach) also designed the Austrian National Library?

Austrian National Library, Vienna

Although the Austrian National Library is known for its collections, especially the world’s largest collection of papyri, it’s equally renowned for its architecture. The library’s most impressive ceiling fresco is in the attached City Hall that and depicts Charles VI in heavenly splendor. It’s hard to believe anyone can concentrate here with all the distractingly gorgeous art!

Cupola fresco in the State Hall, Daniel Gran, 1726/1730 (From the collection of Austrian National Library)

10 How the Royals Rolled
The Imperial Carriage Museum

Although the Habsburg Imperial Carriage is the main draw in Vienna’s Imperial Carriage Museum, there’s a far more interesting story attached to Maria Theresa’s smaller Carousel Carriage. This gold-plated carousel was completed in 1742 and first used by Theresa to celebrate a war victory in 1743.

State Coach, so-called "Imperial Carriage", 1730/1799 (From the collection of Imperial Carriage Museum)
Imperial Carriage Museum, Vienna

11 At The Albertina
Dürer’s Rare Hare

German artist Albrecht Dürer completed his incredibly detailed Feldhase in 1502. For some odd reason, we English speakers have been referring to this painting as Young Hare for centuries…even though the hare in Dürer’s painting is most obviously not young. The German Feldhase better translates to “Field Hare.”

Hare, by Albert Dürer (From the collection of Albertina)

12 Vienna’s Treasury
Holy Relics

One of the most impressive pieces in the Austria Treasury’s collection is the Coronation Gospels. Historians now believe a Greek scholar completed these Gospels in France around 800 AD. As the name suggests, all Holy Roman Emperors had to place their hands on these beautiful illumined pages during the coronation ceremony.

Coronation Gospels (From the collection of Treasury, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien)

13 Music of the Gods
The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Vienna State Opera, Vienna

To help everyone experience the thrill of a live classical concert, the Vienna Philharmonic puts on a special Summer Night Concert each year outside the Schönbrunn Palace

Vienna State Opera at Night (From the collection of Vienna State Opera)

It’s safe to say the Vienna Philharmonic has some pretty high standards. This orchestra has earned praise not only from critics, but also directly from the lips of Wagner, Mahler, and Brahms.

Full auditorium (From the collection of Vienna State Opera)
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