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Leopold Museum

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Hidden just out of sight in the Museumsplatz courtyard, the Leopold Museum is home to one of the biggest collections of modern Austrian art in the world, and is a relatively new addition to the Vienna cultural scene. The minimalist cinder block aesthetics of the elegant but restrained exterior, clad in white Danube limestone, mirror those of MUMOK, conveniently located on the other side of the courtyard, and also designed by renowned architectural practice Ortner & Ortner. While MUMOK focuses primarily on post-war art, the Leopold Museum, opened in 2001, deals mainly with art from the first half of the twentieth century.

On stepping into the grand, light-filed atrium of the building visitors will feel almost overwhelmed by the sheer white walls and polished marble floors of this exhibition space. Visitors are then faced with the choice of descending two floors towards photographs and graphic arts, protected from natural light in a climate controlled environment, or heading up towards paintings and sculptures. With more than 5,000 exhibits on show, most of them left to the museum by its patrons Elisabeth and Rudolf Leopold, it will take a good few hours to see everything on offer.

The major part of the collection here focuses on Austrian art, with items from Germany, Europe and the wider world also represented. Specific attention is paid to the tormented works of the Austrian Expressionist movement, the florid styles of Jugendstil, and early modernist works. In particular the gallery has the world's foremost collection of works by Egon Schiele, the controversial artist famed for his twisting, lithe portraits of the Vienna underclass. Rudolf Leopold acquired a huge amount of Schiele's works during the 1950s when his work was considered degenerate, or even pornographic. Rarely seen outside of Austria, Schiele's paintings are now undergoing something of a critical renaissance, and one of the finest works by this tortured artist, dead by the age of 28, is his Portrait of Wally Neuzil, a lovingly captured sketch of Schiele's lover and favourite muse.

Gustav Klimt is another Austrian artist who has works on the walls here, and his bewildering canvas Death and Life, a striking work of contrasts featuring the grim reaper watching a group of sleeping people, is one of the best. Other artists you can see here include Oskar Kokoschka, Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller and Richard Gertsl. Furniture and everyday objects from the fin-de-siecle period are also on display in the Leopold Museum, with glorious designs from Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos showcased, partly to give a sense of historical background to the slightly later art of Schiele and Klimt, yet also to show the birth of revolutionary ideas in Vienna at the time.

Finally, the Cafe Leopold is a great place to end your visit to the gallery, and enjoy traditional Viennese coffee, partaking in the vibrant atmosphere of Vienna cafes as artists from years gone by used to. The cafe has an outdoor terrace with fabulous views over the baroque MuseumsQuartier, with vistas continuing over to the imperial bulwark of the Hofburg Palace.

 

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