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History of the Albertina, one of the world's most visited museums

History of the Albertina, one of the world's most visited museums

Unlike the other collections, which were only accessible to the nobility, the only requirement for entry to the Albertina was that visitors should have their own shoes.

The future museum was situated in the palace of Grand Duke Albert, the historic residence of the Habsburgs. And the name «Albertina» comes from the name of Albert Casimir, Duke of Saxony-Teschen, bridesgroom of Empress Maria Theresia, who founded the collection in 1776 in the Hungarian town of Pressburg, where he lived as a representative of Empress Maria Theresia.

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In 1792, the archduke managed to bring most of the collection to Vienna from the Austrian Netherlands, where he later served as the Austrian monarch's representative. Duke Albert's collection is one of the most significant art collections in the world. For more than 50 years he used a system of dealers working throughout Europe, as well as extensive private collection auctions to purchase 14,000 drawings and 200,000 engravings. The collection contains works by artists from the early fifteenth to the early nineteenth century. Many of the drawings are acclaimed masterpieces, including Michelangelo's drawing of a male nude, «Young Hare» by Dürer and the portraits of children by Rubens.

Duke Albert was inspired to create the collection by his wife, Archduchess Maria Christina, who shared not only a great love of art, but was also able to support it financially thanks to her enormous wealth. From the beginning, Duke Albert systematically structured his collection according to artistic and historical criteria, according to schools and artistic landscapes. Germans and Austrians come first, followed by works by Dutch, Italian and French artists. During the last twenty years of his life, Duke Albert bought works by contemporary artists («maîtres modernes»). Their works made up around a third of his collection.

Museum building

Its history goes back to 1744 when Maria Teresa built the palace for her close friend and adviser Don Emanuel Teles da Silva Conde Taruca. The architect of the complex was Mauro Ignazio Valmagini.

Years later, in 1794, when Duke Albert and Maria Cristina needed a home after returning to Vienna, Emperor Franz II gave the very same palace on the Augustinerbastai. Albert first adjusted the building for his graphic arts collection and library, and then expanded it from 1802 to 1804.

After the duke's death, both the art collection and the building were inherited by Archduke Charles and later by Archduke Albrecht Friedrich of Austria and Archduke Friedrich of Austria. This is when the exhibition was further expanded.

In spring 1919 the building and collection were transferred from the Habsburgs to the Republic of Austria. In 1920 the collection was joined with the print collections from the former royal court library. At that time all private exhibits had already been removed from the palace by their former owners.

In the same year, all state rooms were closed to the public and used as offices, libraries or to store collections. The precious jewellery was treated carelessly and the brilliant cultural heritage was being successively destroyed. Since 1921, the building and collection officially took the name «Albertina».

Alfred Stix

No matter how much the building suffered, the permanent expansion of the collection, which Duke Albert strove for, was nevertheless continued between 1923 and 1934 by Albertina's director, Alfred Stix. He succeeded in expanding the collection by acquiring 19th century French and German drawings. From 1934 until the end of the Second World War, Alfred Stix continued the expansion of Austrian and German nineteenth and twentieth century drawings.

For decades the museum was opened to visitors for only a few hours a day (1930s: 27 hours a week, late 1950s: around 35 hours a week). No wonder the number of visitors during these years was low. At the same time, the museum management paid much more attention to scientific activities than to interaction with the public.

From 1962 to 1986 Walter Koszacki was the director of the Albertina. During his directorship he managed to organise more than 200 exhibitions and published a number of historical-artistic works on graphic art. Under Koszacki, the Albertina once again became more noticeable to the public.

Today

In 1996 the Albertina was closed due to renovation. It didn't reopen to the public until 2003 - after more than a decade of closure, extensive expansion, modernisation and meticulous restoration.

This major restoration not only uncovered the remains of Roman tombs, but also reconstructed parts of the facades that were demolished in the 1950s and reconstructed the Habsburg State Chambers. They also renovated the classical state rooms and bought back most of the original furniture commissioned by Duke Albert from 1780 to 1805.

To enable a complete presentation of the collections, the exhibition area was expanded from 150 m² to 5,000 m². Architect Hans Hollein was responsible for redesigning the architecture of the Soravia Wing in such a way that it would symbolically show the traces of reconstruction on the facade. In addition to the 60 metre long protruding wing, Hans Hollein also designed an escalator cutting through the bastion at an angle and a panoramic lift.

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Klaus Albrecht Schröder (since 1999) was elected as the new director of the Albertina. It was Klaus Albrecht Schröder who was responsible for the renovation of the museum, which has been designated as an academic institution since 2000 by law. In addition to the Archduke Albert's Graphic Collection, the museum also contains the Architectural Collection and the Photo Collection, which was founded in 2000 by combining the historic Graphic Collection and the Langewieschen Verlag (Blaue Bücher) Photo Archive. By 2018, the Rita and Herbert Baltliner Collection (Sammlung Batliner) as well as the Karlheits Essl Collection (Sammlung Essl) were added.

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The transition from exhibiting only the graphic collection has proved successful: the museum is now one of the most visited attractions in Vienna, with more than a million visitors in 2018.

By the way, now there are no graphics in the museum's permanent exhibition - they are only shown during temporary exhibitions. Since the museum was given temporary use of the Butliner collection in 2007, part of the exhibition space has been used for a permanent exhibition dedicated to classical modernism: «From Monet to Picasso». The Butliner Collection».

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There are often specialised exhibitions of paintings in the museum: for example, there was a large-scale exhibition of Picasso in 2006 and exhibitions of works by Pirosmani and Monet in autumn 2018. A large-scale exhibition devoted to Albrecht Dürer's graphics was opened in 2019/2020.

In 2008, a research library (so-called Studiensaal) was set up at the Albertina, as well as restoration and workshops, the halls with the storage of a collection of over a million works of art.

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Photo sources:

© Albertina, Wien (Foto: Alexander Ch. Wulz)

Albertina,
© Albertina, Wien (Foto: Harald Eisenberger)

Jeanne und Donald Kahn Galleries,
© Albertina, Wien

Ausstellungseinblicke,
© Albertina, Wien (Foto: Rupert Steiner)

Einblick in die Ausstellungshalle | Foto © Bureau Kies

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