The Liechtensteins´ collection
of paintings in the CITY PALACE
Both the architect and the owner, Prince Alois II, set great store by the furnishing and decoration of this palace, which was to be both a home and an expression of the family’s wealth and social standing. They were concerned to create the most modern, up-to-date interiors possible. The overwhelming majority of the paintings on display in the CITY PALACE are from the Biedermeier era.
Although the dates 1815 to 1848 are commonly used to define this period, the stylistic developments actually start much earlier and transition smoothly from the Classicist and Empire eras. The end of this movement is also not easily defined. Many artists were still active well into the second half of the nineteenth century and continued to work unaffected by the social and political upheavals of the time.
Politics and their influence on society and the individual citizen played a different role than they had in previous ages. People began to withdraw into the private sphere, even if this did not necessarily mean the privacy of their own homes. In painting it was no longer the world of the Bible or antiquity that was the focus of interest, but daily domestic life.
The observation of daily life, sometimes in idealized form, was depicted in numerous genre scenes, with the capturing of insignificant moments proving especially popular. Even in Flemish and Dutch painting of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and then again in France during the late Rococo age, the genre scene had been a major subject, albeit treated in different ways. The often minutely detailed depiction of everyday life, combining finely executed painting with uneventful urban scenes or more rough-hewn motifs from rural peasant life, became a special focus of interest for Biedermeier artists.
In landscape painting artists such as Rudolf von Alt, Friedrich Gauermann and Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller brought a new spectrum of colours back from their extended tours of southern Italy, a golden lustre that was not to be found in the landscapes and light of their native country. Nonetheless, The Austrian countryside – from the Alps via the Vienna Woods to the Great Hungarian Plain – provided an unending variety of motifs. While a number of artists depicted quiet, uneventful everyday situations or minutely detailed vedutas, others rendered the overwhelming forces of Nature in its more dramatic moods. This frequently gave rise to ‘fantasy pieces’ or imaginary scenes composed of real motifs from different locations. Artists began making sketches on small panels en plein air, which they subsequently worked up into elaborate paintings in the studio. Whereas a hundred years previously it would have been unthinkable to ascend into the high mountain regions to study the glaciers, now it was a matter of course for both artists and their patrons.
At least as important as Biedermeier landscape painting is the portraiture of this epoch. Here too the observation of the moment, the narrating of the smallest details and the rendering of light were the focus of the painting. Major representatives such as Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller and Friedrich von Amerling are represented with a wealth of portraits in the Princely Collections, attesting to the close relationship between patron and artists. The portrait gallery also conveys an image of middle-class society of the time, featuring likenesses of architects, physicians and the artists themselves.
Alongside portraits, genre scenes and landscapes the repertoire of many Biedermeier artists included the still life. No other artist was capable of capturing such an intensity of colour on canvas as Georg Ferdinand Waldmüller. His masterly rending of the subtlest nuances imbues his paintings with an almost photo-realist quality.
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller
Restored to new life, 1852
Oil on wood
© LIECHTENSTEIN. The Princely Collections, Vaduz–Vienna