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Vienna’s Belvedere Palace, Jugendstil, Gustav Klimt

Vienna, Austria

For examples of Vienna’s version of curvy, ornate Art Nouveau — also called Jugendstil — we head to the sumptuous Belvedere Palace, featuring the work of Klimt, whose lavish paintings (like The Kiss) mixed eroticism, glitter, and amped-up beauty.

Complete Video Script

Vienna has fine art and architecture from just about every age and particularly interesting is the art from the last decades of Habsburg rule – art nouveau. Vienna gave birth to its own curvaceous brand of art nouveau in the early 1900s – jugendstil. Playful examples are all over town. Whether architecture, coffee, cakes, or music… it's all part of the good life, Vienna style.

The Belvedere Palace, with its elegant Baroque gardens, was the lavish home of Prince Eugene of Savoy, the still-much-appreciated conqueror of the Turks. Eugene was the greatest military genius of his age and highly valued by his emperor.

When you conquer great enemies, as Eugene did, you get really rich. Since he had no heirs, the state inherited his palace. In the 19th century, Emperor Josef II converted the palace into Austria's first great public art gallery.

It houses the Austrian gallery of 19th- and 20th-century art. As Austria became a leader in European art around 1900, that age is the collection’s forte, with fine works by a school of respected romantics, Egon Schiele, and Gustav Klimt.

In the room full of sumptuous paintings by Klimt you can get caught up in his creed that all art is erotic. He was fascinated with both the beauty and the danger of women. He painted during the turn-of-the-century, when Vienna was a splendid laboratory of hedonism — the love of pleasure. For Klimt, Eve was the prototypical woman; her body not the apple provided the seduction. Frustrated by censorship, Klimt refused every form of state support. While he didn't paint women entirely nude, he managed to capture a bewitching eroticism.

Here, Judith is no biblical heroine but a high society Viennese woman — with an ostentatious necklace. With half-closed eyes and lightly parted lips, she's dismissive yet mysterious and seductive. Holding the head of her biblical victim, she's the modern Femme Fatale.

In perhaps his most famous painting, The Kiss, the woman is no longer dominating… but submissive, abandoning herself to her man in a fertile field and a vast universe. In a glow emanating from a radiance of desire, the body she presses against is a self-portrait of the artist himself — Gustav Klimt.