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Albertina

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While many of Vienna's great museums and art galleries are grand, sprawling complexes reflecting the Imperial might of the Habsburg family, the Albertina is a much more modest and intimate affair, and far less intimidating to the casual visitor. Located in the grandiose First District, surrounded by ostentatious palaces and imposing edifices, the Albertina print gallery has more of a blink and you will miss it style, occupying a small triangle of land between the Hofburg Palace and the Vienna Opera House. Constructed on the site of the old Augustinian Bastion in 1745, the building has undergone numerous expansions and renovations, and is today fronted by a one-storey colonnade adorned with fine stone statues in its large, monumental niches. In a city full of architectural pomp and ceremony this may go unnoticed, yet a modern extension has added a dramatic new angular feature to the facade; a stunning 64 metre titanium canopy that extends out across the roof and the street below, announcing that this historic gallery is no wallflower.

When entering the Albertina visitors may be surprised to find that the interior gallery space is not quite what they expected with barely a traditional furnishing in sight. This is because the museum was heavily damaged during the Second World War, and was completely modernised in 2003. Wide spaces, glass walls, natural light and accented lighting are the order of the day here. Yet 21 Habsburg state rooms from the historic lay-out remain preserved in their original conditions, with inlaid parquet floors, fine furniture and elaborate drapery.

The Albertina's stock-in-trade is prints and archival materials, and in fact the gallery hosts one of the world's largest, and most important, print rooms. In total the Albertine houses some 65,000 drawings and well over 1 million old master prints, along with graphic art from a range of eras. First collected by Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen in the late 18th century, the prints are broadly encyclopaedic in scale, with everything from botanist's studies, zoological cross-sections, architectural blueprints, navigator's charts, portrait sketches, silkscreen abstracts and modern Pop Art on display. Important pieces by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and Claude Lorrain adorn the walls, while unusual apocrypha from the likes of Goya and Durer proves to be utterly compelling viewing. Particularly noteworthy are hand drawn sketches from German romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, whose dream-like works transport the viewer to another place. Whether you want to see the preparatory studies of Old Master artists, or obscure scientific pamphlets, there is bound to be something that catches your eye.

Along with a world-class selection of prints, the Albertina also exhibits a permanent display of early modern art, with some breathtaking original paintings from the Impressionist era hanging on the walls. On loan to the Albertina as a gift from wealthy philanthropists, the gallery shows off paintings by Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Modigliani and Picasso, amongst others. Some of the most well loved pictures include the Edgar Degas work Two Dancers, Cezanne's study of Mont Sainte-Victoire and Marc Chagall's dream-like The Kite.

Yet the Albertine is no mere museum-piece, as it acts as a working research centre for visiting scholars and academics from around the world. With always rotating exhibits, and new material constantly rediscovered by experts working here, the Albertina is one of the world's great print galleries.
 

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