A summer palace, a haven for exiled French royalty fleeing revolution and now a world-famous art museum; the Belvedere is an Austrian national treasure. And yet the astonishing beauty of the palace itself is surpassed by the priceless masterpieces it is home to.
I developed art appreciation from a young age. My dad is a part time artist and consequently I grew up receiving drawing lessons and condensed art history sessions from him. It didn’t stick. My younger sister is now a budding talent in her own right and is currently studying art, but my skills as an artist never progressed beyond the age of fourteen. But, my love of art and admiration for those who are talented enough to produce it has never died. Safe to say, the Belvedere is now one of my favourite spots in the world.
The museum stretches over two buildings and several floors and with over a million visitors yearly, it is a good idea to plan what you want to see in advance. Timing is everything. Odds are the paintings and the artists you most want to see are also the ones everyone else most wants to see, so plan accordingly. Otherwise, you might find yourself at the back of a large tour group, trying in vain to catch a glimpse of Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ above the forest of cameras and smartphones. I was lucky enough to catch it during a rare break in the flow of tourists but five minutes later the Klimt room was once again overrun. If you have ever visited the Mona Lisa in the Louvre you understand the pushing and shoving that can ensue when everyone wants to get a selfie with famous artworks. It is astonishing how many of these people travel so far only to see the artwork through the lenses of their camera. In the Belvedere, they even have a separate print of ‘The Kiss’ set up in another room specifically so people can take selfies with it. I recommend going to the Belvedere early in the morning and seeing the most in demand works of art first, save the rest of the museum for the afternoon during peak visiting hours.
The museum has a wide-ranging collection of artworks from the Middle Ages stretching to the modern period. There is a little bit of something for every art lover. The museum is divided into the Upper Belvedere and the Lower Belvedere. You can buy tickets for the two separately, but the reduced price to buy them together is a much better option. Do not make the same silly mistake I did in thinking the Upper and Lower are all in one building. I took Upper and Lower to mean the upper and lower floors. In reality, it is two separate buildings. I thus spent hours in the Upper Belvedere only to realise towards the end that I had a whole other building to explore. The Upper Belvedere houses the permanent collection while the Lower is generally reserved for temporary exhibitions. First time visitors should absolutely visit the Upper Belvedere and base their decision to visit the Lower museum on the current exhibition or the amount of time they want to spend in the museum. You could spend up to several hours in the Upper Belvedere alone depending on how much you want to see.
For the Upper Belvedere, after visiting your favourite paintings first, I suggest you start at the top and work your way down to see the rest. The top floor moves through the Romantic and Neoclassical periods and covers both Realism and Impressionism. There are pieces from Van Gogh and Monet as well as tons of other beautiful paintings that I had never seen before. The second floor is the main event. There are several rooms of Baroque art, which are certainly not my personal favourites, but the second floor is also where you will find the largest collection of Gustav Klimt in the world as well as pieces by other artists such as Egon Schiele. Finally, finish with the first floor which is divided into medieval and modern art.
How much time you devote to the Belvedere is up to you. I spent an entire day in the museum, but I would obviously not recommend that to everyone. By the end, I was happily exhausted but definitely ready to collapse on a sofa. If you only want to see the most famous pieces, you can easily spend only an hour or two in the museum. But do not make the mistake of thinking that you can breeze through most of the museum in this amount of time. With the exception of the works by Klimt, most of the artwork is not widely photographed or copied. It is refreshing to see so many incredible works of art that have not been scaled down to fit on phone cases or notebooks. Just like the Louvre and other world-class art museums, the Belvedere is an absolute treasure trove, the envy of any art museum. Has anyone else been to the Belvedere?
Image Gallery (Personal Favourite Artworks from the Belvedere):
Top: The Belvedere, Vienna
Middle: Inside the Belvedere
Bottom: Gardens between the Upper and Lower Belvedere
Photography by Savannah Hayes