Trail Of The Unexpected: Gold rush, Glamour and glitz in Klimt's Vienna

Get ready for a rush on sales of gold-leaf paint. Gustav Klimt: Painting, Design and Modern Life in Vienna 1900, which has just opened at Tate Liverpool, has a fabulous lineup of Klimt's paintings, alongside furniture and artefacts by his contemporaries. It also offers a fascinating glimpse into life in fin de siècle Vienna. But for the authentic Gustav Klimt experience, nothing beats a visit to the city itself.

Klimt's best-known paintings are the lavishly decorated pieces from his "golden period" – sumptuous mosaic-like creations, with jewelled rectangles and exquisite discs of gold and silver spilling down the pictures like showers of coins. Fittingly, a tour of the galleries of Vienna to look at his works in their home setting offers plenty of glamour and glitz. The most famous paintings, including The Kiss, are housed in the Baroque splendour of the Upper Belvedere Palace, one of two magnificent mansions divided by a ravishing landscaped slope of formal gardens. Another fine display of Klimt paintings can be found in the limestone cube of the Leopold Museum, which opened in 2001 as part of the city's Museumsquartier.

However, there's a lot more to Klimt's Vienna than palaces and ritzy galleries. Though only one of the three studios where he worked is still standing, and the apartment block at 36 Westbahnstrasse where he lived for most of his life offers nothing more interesting than a plaque on the wall, you can easily retrace Klimt's footsteps to the artist's other favourite haunts. Visit the eastern edge of the lovely park at Schloss Schönbrunn, for example, where he ate the same huge breakfast every morning (with a side order of whipped cream) within sight of the city zoo. Or stretch out in the Prater gardens – home to Vienna's giant Ferris Wheel since 1897. In 1902, Klimt entertained the sculptor Rodin in these gardens, surrounded by the neighbourhood's most beautiful nymphets. (Rodin obviously thought he'd died and gone to heaven. "This garden, these women, this music," he rhapsodised. "What is the reason for it all?")

Bear in mind as well that a number of Klimt's works were created on site – including the magnificent Beethoven Frieze, a replica of which is now on display at Liverpool. You can have the thrill of imagining yourself standing exactly where the artist himself must have painted, resplendent in his floor-length indigo smock (allegedly with nothing underneath).

My own pilgrimage in the great man's footsteps began, simply enough, on tram No 1. It follows the 6km course of the Ringstrasse, the most magnificent of Vienna's thoroughfares and a piece of history that Klimt himself played a part in creating. Known to locals simply as "Ring", the vast, tree-lined avenue was a showcase for imperial wealth. It encircles the city centre like a horseshoe and boasts an awesome parade of grand municipal edifices. Between 1860 and 1890, newly commissioned buildings included parliament, the city hall, the university, the museums of natural history and fine art, a theatre and the state opera house – all ostentatiously neo-classical in style.

Trams 1 and 2 circle the Ringstrasse in opposite directions, giving (quite literally) ringside views of the whole over-the-top extravaganza. To inspect Klimt's contribution, hop off at the Kunsthistorisches Museum and visit the first-floor balcony, where the young Gustav and his brother Ernst completed a series of rather florid murals. Then stroll westwards to the Burgtheater, where they painted some altogether more imaginative ceiling frescoes. Guided tours of the frescoes (in German) run every afternoon for €5.50 (£4.60).

The most impressive of Klimt's site-specific creations, the Beethoven Frieze, was painted some 15 years later than the Ringstrasse works, for display in the iconic "Secession" building. The Secession movement was founded in 1897, with the 35-year-old Klimt as its first president. Its artists developed a distinctive Viennese version of Art Nouveau that became known as Jugendstil. Their flagship building is extraordinary – a windowless white block sparsely decorated with golden relief work and topped by a gilded dome of entwined laurel leaves.

The modernity of the design provoked uproar at the gallery's opening in November 1898, with the gleaming foliage of its cupola quickly earning it the "Golden Cabbage" nickname that it retains – now affectionately – to this day. The 34m-long Beethoven Frieze was constructed here in 1902, and triumphantly restored to its original setting in 1984. If there's a single "must-see" in Klimt's Vienna, then this it.

The final tram ride on my Klimt trail was less spectacular, but in its own way just as thought-provoking. The elegant south-western suburb of Hietzing is Klimt's burial place. But it was also his last home in the city, and the location, from 1912 until his death in 1918, of his final studio.

Tram 58 runs from Hietzing Hauptstrasse to Unter St Veit. Disembarking at an unprepossessing Chinese restaurant at Feldmuehlgasse, I headed for 15a. In Klimt's time, the building was a one-storey Biedermeier house, in a large garden of flowers and fruit trees that the artist tended himself. Later, it was all but obliterated when a neo-Baroque villa was built up around it. Now, acquired by the government but awaiting restoration to re-expose the studio within, the mansion languishes as poignantly as Sleeping Beauty's palace in its tangled wood of thorns. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the renewed interest in Klimt's work could lead to a reawakening?



Belvedere Palace (00 43 1 79 5570; www.belvedere.at). Schloss Schönbrunn (00 43 1 811 13239; www.schoenbrunn.at). Kunsthistorisches Museum (00 43 1 525 240; www.khm.at). Vienna Tourism (00 43 1 24 555; www.wien.info). 'Gustav Klimt: Painting, Design and Modern Life in Vienna 1900' is at Tate Liverpool until 31 August (0845 600 1354; www.tate.org.uk)

News
Russia Today’s new UK channel began broadcasting yesterday. Discussions so far have included why Britons see Russia as ‘the bad guy’
news

New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain

News
people
Voices
Left: An illustration of the original Jim Crowe, played by TD Rice Right: A Couple dressed as Ray and Janay Rice
voices

By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch at the premiere of The Imitation Game at the BFI London Film Festival
filmsKeira Knightley tried to miss The Imitation Game premiere to watch Bake Off
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hand out press photograph/film still from the movie Mad Max Fury Road (Downloaded from the Warner Bro's media site/Jasin Boland/© 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)
films'You have to try everything and it’s all a process of elimination, but ultimately you find your path'
Arts and Entertainment
Imelda Staunton as Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter films
books

New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning

News
people

Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy

News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager - Commercial Cable & Wire - UK

    £60,000 - £75,000: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the major Aer...

    ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes