Saturday, 30 December 2017

There’s something missing about the Belvedere. The road around the lake in front was covered in trash when we arrived. The gardens on the incline looking towards the lower palace are mostly decorative gravel. The block to the right of the palace is a housing tenement that butts directly on to the estate with a blank, windowless concrete sidewall. The rooms have been renovated and most are in pink marble and granite with gilding, but there’s no furniture and the building has been, in theory, repurposed as an art gallery. There is no information about the history of the palace or the monarchy, except general dates relating to when the rooms were built and their style.

The palace was confiscated from the Hapsburgs in 1919 and while it’s clearly being maintained, and the royal dynasty isn’t repudiated or criticised as part of the curation, it sits awkwardly as some kind of state building. They have a law banning the nobility from using the honorific ‘von’. It’s just not clear that they know what they are doing with it. They haven’t embraced and celebrated the aesthetic of aristocracy and empire, like the French do at Versailles, even though they killed all of that aristocracy and minted a brand new one and then brought back the old ones and then eventually resuscitated the legacy of republicanism. They don’t celebrate it the way the British do, with absurd state pensions and illiberal parliamentary positions and the BBC wardrobe department and yearly memberships to the National Trust. I wouldn’t say the Austrians are more confused than the French or British; they’re probably less confused. I think the main thing that comes across is that they are far less enthusiastic.

In practice the Belvedere is a kind of tourism catch-all. You notice it particularly in the art collection. They show some of the biggest Klimt and Schiele works, thereby separating them from the rest of their body of work which is in the Leopold museum (each basically has a whole floor there). The door to the left of the Kiss is to a small room which had nothing in it except a cardboard cutout reproduction of the Kiss for people to use as a ‘selfie station’.

The rest of the art varies from middling historical works that were in the palace at some point (such as above ostrich) to weird, terrible things like this:

There is a hat on the baby shaped finial on the frame at the top; that man at the bottom right is carved and painted wood, and the landscape looks like it was painted by some kind of hack or art forger. The lower Belvedere is just as bad even though it’s recently renovated with a modern extension. There is a perfunctory grouping of works from each broad time period, spaced around the shape of the palace to fill things in.

They did have impressive strudel in the cafe though:

After the Palace we had tickets booked to see the Spanish riding school in the evening. It was not something I am likely to see anywhere else. It did look very difficult: kind of like making horses do push ups, or jazzercise. It was also confusing. Like making horses do push ups, or jazzercise.

Most importantly, it snowed. It snowed for at least three minutes, as we stood underneath Christmas lights and then rain once the snow had gradually gotten so wet it had nothing to do with snow any more.

Not sure if you can actually see snow in there, but I was very excited.

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