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Museum opening of the year: The Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna: the restoration by Prince and Princess Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein of the family's Garden Palace in Vienna as a setting for works of art from the Liechtenstein collection has provided Austria with a major new museum. Andrew Wilton visited the palace, which opened to the public in March.

Until recently, the Garden Palace of the Princes of Liechtenstein in Rossau, a suburb of Vienna, housed the Museum of Modern Art. It was an incongruous association: One of the great baroque palaces of Europe was home to a collection representing the aesthetic of a very different age, an aesthetic that seemed almost to deny the aristocratic splendour of the building.

Since 2000, that has changed. Prince Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein and his wife, Princess Marie, with their director of collections, Johann Kraftner, and a team of craftsmen, restorers and scholars, have brought the palace back to glittering life; its garden is a vista of shrubs, flowers and sculpture; its semi-circular forecourt houses a pleasant cafe, its saloons and staircases are reverberant with the colours of newly-restored frescoes and ceiling paintings.

The house was first planned by Fischer von Erlach for Prince Johann Adam Andreas, who built a slew of fine palaces across central Europe in the late seventeenth century. He chose Fischer because of his training under Bernini in Rome, but in the event that was not Italian enough for the Prince. He turned instead to Domenico Egidio Rossi and then to Domenico Martinelli, who finished the job in 1702. The house was adorned with numerous sculptures and its spacious interiors decorated by two Italian painters, Andrea Pozzo and Marcantonio Franceschini, together with the Viennese Johann Michael Rottmayr. (Those interested in Rottmayr can at the moment ascend the dome of Fischer yon Erlach's great Karlskirche in Vienna to survey both the restoration of Rottmayr's frescoes of the apotheosis of S Carlo Borromeo and the panorama of modern Vienna from the lantern.)

Johann Adam Andreas was not only a compulsive builder: he also collected painting and sculpture with avidity. From the sixteenth century the Liechtensteins had been amassing art of a high order, and in the early nineteenth century the palace at Rossau became a permanent home to some of the finest pieces, to which the public was given access. Only with World War II did this state of affairs end, when the collection was removed to Vaduz.

No less than the great Kunsthistorisches Museum on Vienna's Ringstrasse, this is a truly international gallery. The first object to seize your attention as you enter the radiantly lit Sail Terrena is Prince Joseph Wenzel von Liechtenstein's sumptuous rococo carriage, all gilt scrollwork, crimson velvet and painted amoretti, made in Paris in 1738 by Nicolas Pineau. Beyond are the handsome neo-classical library brought here in 1912 from the family's town house in the Herrengasse, and a sequence of rooms filled with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century paintings and sculptures. Here are two highly informative views of the Garden Palace by Bellotto and a number of portraits and small pictures representing the Liechtenstems' taste in the nineteenth century for German masters such as Rudolf von Alt and Friedrich Georg Waldmuller. These rooms are presided over by Canova's exquisite seated figure of Leopoldina Esterhazy, a version of which occupies the tempietto erected as her mausoleum by the lake in the English Garden at the Esterhazy's palace in Eisenstadt, not far away.

Ascend either of the two grand staircases that flank the entrance hall, under ceilings (now in restauro) by Rottmayr, and you reach the overpoweringly grand Herculessaal, with its frescoes by Pozzo illustrating Hercules' labours. From this open the galleries devoted to renaissance and baroque art. In Gallery IV are Italian renaissance paintings, among them Piero di Cosimo's delicious Madonna and Child with St John in a Landscape (c. 1505-10) and Catena's Christ carrying the Cross from the 1520s. Gallery V is a room of portraits, including a sensitive head of a man by Barthelmy d'Eyck, of 1456; a swagger whole-length by Hans Mielich of Ladislaus von Fraunberg with an alert leopard whose spotted coat challenges the ornately embroidered doublet of his master; and a deeply introspective male portrait that is called, and looks plausible as, Raphael. In this room too are specimens of the pietra dura work beloved of Prince Karl I, the founding father of the Liechtenstein collections. Spectacular pieces of furniture of many periods are scattered throughout the galleries.

Gallery VI is devoted to the Italian baroque, with pictures by Cortona, Solimena and Batoni alongside sculptures by Giambologna, Susini and Massimiliano Soldani Benzi, a late-baroque master much collected by Prince Johann Adam Andreas. There are more fine works by Benzi in Gallery VII, which also holds two sculptural masterpieces by Adriaen de Vries: The Man of Sorrows (1610) and St Sebastian (1613-15). But the chief glory of this room is the great series of eight tapestry designs by Rubens (executed with Van Dyck's assistance) depicting the life of the Roman hero Decius Mus, who is presented as a type of ancient heroic virtue. Each is massively framed by an ornate gilt rococo cartouche carved by Giovanni Giuliani in 1706. Here also is Rubens's Assumption of the Virgin, which once hung in the church of the Liechtensteins in Valatice, Moravia.

A feast of yet more Rubens follows in Gallery VIII, and in Gallery IX there hang famous portraits by him of his children, Clara Serena, a vividly characterful head, and Albert and Nikolaus, his young sons. These share walls with Van Dyck, including his wonderful three-quarter length Maria de Tassis (1629-30), one of the most seductive of all female portraits. Gallery X displays an array of Dutch landscapes and genre subjects, with Rembrandt's early Cupid with a soap bubble--a subject that would surely have intrigued Reynolds, who may have known the Goltzius print from which it seems to be derived.

The works of art are beautifully displayed in these stunning rooms, each of which is equipped with plenty of copies of a helpful descriptive leaflet. The Liechtenesteins are rightfully proud of what they have achieved, and intend to go on collecting. In the past few years they have acquired a gilt bronze figure of Marsyas tied to a tree, later converted into a depiction of St Sebastian--this is daringly attributed to Mantegna; a characteristically bold Hals portrait of a man that formerly belonged to Baron Albert de Rothschild; and a charming portrait of the infant Emperor Franz Joseph, aged two and dressed as a grenadier, by Waldmuller. These additions typify the imagination that has brought about the reinstatement of the collection in this wonderful palace: the whole achievement is a triumph for the Liechtenstein family, for Vienna and for art-lovers across the world.

For more information about the Liechtenstein Collection, visit www.liechtensteinmuseum.at

SHORTLISTED OPENINGS

The Weston Link, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh Designed by John Miller + Partners, and opened in August, this underground building, housing public facilities (shop, restaurant and education rooms) links the National Gallery of Scotland with the Royal Scottish Academy, newly restored to house exhibitions. The building was reviewed in APOLLO in September. John Miller + Partners had another success this year with the unveiling of their Fitzwilliam Museum extension, Cambridge (APOLLO, June, 2004).

The Enlightenment Gallery, British Museum, London

The removal of the British Library to its new home in 1998 denuded one of the British Museum's greatest interiors, the King's Library. In December 2003 the museum opened a new permanent display in the gallery, on the theme of the Enlightenment. Objects from the museum's collections evoke the intellectual world of the eighteenth century, from science and exploration to collecting and antiquarian scholarship. Assembled with great visual panache, the gallery is in effect an evocation of the museum's origins.

Sammlung Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden

Richard Meier's new building for the Frieder Burda Collection of twentieth-century and contemporary art opened in October Sited next to the Staatliche Kunsthalle (to which it is joined by a glass bridge) in the Lichtentaler park, Baden-Baden, the new, building is described by its architect as a 'big villa'. The collection focuses on what Frieder Burda calls 'classical modernism', with notable holdings of abstract expressionism and post-war German painting. The collection is vested in a charitable foundation, which has borne the entire 20 million [euro] cost of the building.

Chinese Galleries, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

The Chinese collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, one of the largest in the USA, has been rehoused in fourteen galleries. Opened in October, they have increased the space devoted to the collection by almost half, to 20,000 square feet. They include the first gallery in the USA devoted entirely to Taoist art, and provide new facilities for displaying the distinguished collection of Chinese textiles. The galleries are the first stage in the museum's expansion, designed by Michael Graves, due for completion in 2006.

Andrew Wilton is visiting Research Fellow at Tate Britain.
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Author:Wilton, Andrew
Publication:Apollo
Geographic Code:4EUAU
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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