Known for its lavish balls and even more lavish cakes, Vienna is overflowing with art. If there’s one image that encapsulates the city, it’s of an elegant, gold-clad muse staring out at the viewer with an unsettling beauty.

No, not Conchita Wurst, but the women of Gustav Klimt’s paintings. A tour of his artworks not only takes you to Vienna’s finest galleries, but provides a window on the city at the turn of the twentieth century.

In 1897, a group of artists frustrated with the constraints of Vienna’s cultural establishment formed “The Secession” movement. Klimt was their first president, and their headquarters was a bold statement of Jugendstil (youth style), a simple white building topped with a golden dome.

Displayed inside, Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze (1902) depicts the quest for happiness. Its parade of strange characters – including Death, Madness, Lasciviousness and Wantonness – are all obstacles to true joy, which is found, in the last panel, through art, poetry and music in the form of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

On the trail of Klimt in Vienna: the art tour of a lifetime: View from St. Stephen's Cathedral over Stephansplatz square in Vienna, capital of Austria.View from St. Stephen's Cathedral over Stephansplatz square © Sergey Novikov/Shutterstock

Klimt bridged the avant-garde and traditional decorative arts. He trained at what’s now the Museum of Applied Art (MAK), where you can see sketches for his Stoclet Frieze alongside objects by contemporaries in the Wiener Werkstätte.

Early in his career, he also helped to decorate several public buildings with murals. In the Kunsthistorisches Museum, distinctive Klimt figures, nestled between the columns of the grand stairwell, usher you into one of the world’s greatest art collections.

To see Klimt’s most famous works, visit the Belvedere. The collection includes landscapes, portraits of society beauties, and richly decorated icons such as the mesmerizing Judith (1901) and, of course, The Kiss (1908), its full-on bling and sensuous subject still arresting, however many dodgy reproductions you’ve seen.

But Klimt – and Vienna – are not mere decoration. The Leopold Museum, an essential last stop, owns Klimt’s late masterpiece, the brilliantly disturbing Death and Life (1910–15).

Fittingly, it’s shown alongside numerous paintings by his successor Egon Schiele, whose work brutally exposes the psychological unease lurking in the city Freud called home, an unease that simmers beneath the surface of Klimt’s own perfectly gilded canvases.

Make the most of your time on earthAll museums listed are in central Vienna; to do them all justice, give yourself at least two days. See secession.at, mak.at, khm.at, belvedere.atleopoldmuseum.org and wien.info for more. Discover more unforgettable places around the world with the new edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth.

Share

Book your trip with Rough Guides

Tailor-made travel planned by local experts

At Rough Guides, we understand that experienced travellers want to get truly off-the-beaten-track. That’s why we’ve partnered with local experts to help you plan and book tailor-made trips that are packed with personality and stimulating adventure - at all levels of comfort. If you love planning, but find arranging the logistics exhausting, you’re in the right place.

Learn Morechevron_right

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Explore places to visit in Austria

Your comprehensive guide to travel in Austria

Map of Austriachevron_right

Weekly newsletter

Sign up now for travel inspiration, discounts and competitions

Sign up now and get 20% off any ebook

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs