Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna: the astonishing Stairway to Klimt

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

The Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna is best known for old masters.  But it also has some unique, rare Klimts, hidden in plain sight.

The Klimt masterpieces have been seen only twice in the last 127 years.

Yet they have been on show all the time.

It makes some sense.

Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

The paintings are rendered doubly enticing by the juxtaposition of columns – Photo RP

The Klimts at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

In 1891 Gustav Klimt, at the age of 29 already a successful painter, was commissioned as one of several artists to paint murals in the mighty main staircase of the newly-built Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM) in Vienna – a kind of combined British Museum and National Gallery.  The paintings are epic in scale, stretching from one side of the vast space to the other.

I noticed the paintings at once when I visited the KHM in 2016 and wanted to get a good look at them.  But I couldn’t.

Because of the scale of the space, you cannot get closer than about 12 metres away – around 40 feet.  The pictures are tantalising: spectacular, yet distant.

For 127 years, visitors to the KHM have had to view the Klimts from afar.

Stairway to Klimt

So in 2012, someone had the bright idea of building a mighty, 4-tonne platform, or “bridge”, above the stairwell of the KHM to allow visitors to view the Klimts from close up.  In 2018, the 100th anniversary of Klimt’s death, the bridge was re-erected, and I took these photos.

For only the second time in 127 years, you can see the paintings close up – as Klimt saw them.

Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

To come face to face with the paintings is a wonder.  Although the paintings were designed to be viewed from a distance, they look perfect close up.  They are also in outstanding condition, despite (or perhaps because of) never having been restored.

Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

The “Stairway to Klimt” closed on 2 September 2018.  If you are a Klimt lover, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for another opportunity to glimpse these masterpieces.

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