Sunday, September 8, 2013

Luxarazzi 101: Princely Collections of the House of Liechtenstein

The Princely Collections of the House of Liechtenstein are considered to be one of the most important private art collections in the world; size-wise it is said to only be second to that of the British Royal Family. The Collection is housed in Vaduz, Liechtenstein and at the Stadtpalais and Gartenpalais in Vienna, Austria. Sadly, the Liechtenstein Museum which exhibited large parts of the Collections closed a few years ago as the number of visitors did not equal the expectations. A selection of the artworks though is shown in an exhibition called "The Princely Treasures from the House of Liechtenstein" which can currently be viewed in Singapore. Selected pieces can also be seen at the Kunstmuseum in Vaduz and the Stadtpalais and the Gartenpalais open their doors once a month.

Art at the Gartenpalais (Photo: Liechtenstein.
The Princely Collections, Vaduz-Vienna)
The Princely Colletions feature art from the last five centuries as well as books and other valuable pieces. One of its oldest pieces of the Collection is a portrait of Ladislaus von Fraunberg, Count of Haag by Hans Mielich dating from the year 1557. The painting was brought into the family by Countess Anna Maria of Ortenburg, a niece of Count Ladislaus, who married Hartmann II of Liechtenstein (1544-1585) in 1568.

The first member of the family to own an extensive art collection was Karl I (1569-1627), son of Hartmann II and the first Liechtenstein to become the Prince of Liechtenstein as he was elevated to the rank of a Hereditary Imperial Prince by Emperor Rudolf II though the country of Liechtenstein did not yet exist at that point in time. (Too complicated? Check out our 101 about the family's history.)

"Christ in Distress" by
de Fries (Photo: Liechtenstein.
The Princely Collections,
Correspondence between Prince Karl I and the Emperor dating to the year 1597 reveal that the Liechtenstein prince owned an extensive collection of paintings and Kunstkammer (cabinet of curiosities) pieces in his residence in Prague. In the family's castle in Feldsberg/Valtice, a silver chamber with more than 900 different items was located. Together with tapestries, carpets, precious items of furniture, objects of silver and gold, vessels carved out of semi-precious stone and paintings, they formed the beginning of the Princely Collections. Prince Karl I, however, did not only collect art by buying it but also commissioned pieces such as Adrian de Fries' "Christ in Distress" and "St Sebastian".

Karl I's passion for art was continued by his son, Prince Karl Eusebius I (1611-1684), who was the first member of the family to make systematic use of the art trade to acquire new works. A patron of architecture, he also wrote theoretical papers on the topic and was the first Prince of Liechtenstein to employ architects, masons, stuccateurs and painters for his numerous building projects on a grand scheme. In 1643, he acquired Peter Paul Rubens’ "Assumption of the Virgin Mary" (c. 1637) as an altarpiece for the parish church in Feldsberg/Valtice that he had built.

Prince Hans-Adam I (1662-1712), son of Karl I, inherited his father's passion for art as well. Informally known as Hans-Adam the Rich due to his financial genius, he was one of the greatest patrons of the art of his time. He did not only commission the Gartenpalais and the Stadtpalais in Vienna and bought the demesne of Schellenberg and county of Vaduz, which were later united into the Principality of Liechtenstein, but also works of art by Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and other masters of the Flemish Baroque which, to this day, are the most famous pieces of the Princely Collections.

The Golden Carriage of Prince Joseph
Wenzel I (Photo: Palais Liechtenstein GmbH)
With the next Prince of Liechtenstein, Joseph Wenzel I (1696-1772), a grandson of Karl I's brother Gundakar, French art found its way into the Princely Collections by adding works of Hyacinthe Rigaud and Pierre Courteys. On the occasion of his appointment as Imperial ambassador to France, Prince Joseph Wenzel I also commissioned several state coaches from Nicolas Pineau, among them the Golden Carriage about which we are going to talk at a later date. On request of the Prince, the first printed catalogue of the part of the Collection displayed at the Stadtpalais was issued in 1767.

When Prince Joseph Wenzel I died without surviving male offspring, he was succeeded by his nephew as the Prince of Liechtenstein. According to various sources, Prince Franz Joseph I (1726-1781) also took an interest in the family's art collection though nothing seems to be known about special acquirements by him.

His son, Prince Alois I (1759-1805), however, enhanced the Princely Collections by various purchases as well as commissioned works, such as paintings by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun of his wife Princess Karoline and one of his sister's as Iris and Ariadne on Naxos respectively. Prince Alois I also took a keen interest in prints, drawings and books. After a refurbishment of the Stadtpalais in early classicistic style, all the books owned by the Family were firstly shelved together in its entirety.

Portrait of Princess Maria Franziska
by F. von Amerling
(Photo: Liechtenstein. The Princely
Collections, Vaduz-Vienna)
Prince Johann I (1760-1836) induced the relocation of the Collections into the Gartenpalais which lies in today's 9th district of Vienna, Alsergrund. The main reason for the move, which was carried out in 1807, was the simple fact that there was much more room to exhibit the art in the Gartenpalais than in the Stadtpalais. During his reign, Prince Johann I also acquired more works of art, especially of Italian and Dutch painters.

His son and successor, Prince Alois II (1796-1858), was a great lover of art and formed particularly close bonds with many contemporary artists. While Friedrich von Amerling painted countless portraits of family members, the most famous one being a painting of Princess Maria Franziska of Liechtenstein (1834-1909) at the age of two dating to the year 1836, Rudolf von Alt was asked to paint a series of veduta of the Liechtenstein properties in Vienna and Moravia. Watercolour sketches by Peter Fendi, one of the leading artists of the Biedermeier period, commissioned by Prince Alois II give in intimate view into the family life.

Under the guidance of Berlin art historian Wilhelm Bode, Prince Johann II (1840-1929) concentrated his collecting activities on the art of the 14th, 15th and early 16th centuries though he also took a liking to Venetian masters of the 18th and 19th centuries. It was also Wilhelm Bode who compiled the first illustrated catalogue of the Princely Collection in 1896. Prince Johann II did not only limit his art acquirements to his own collection but also bought and gifted many paintings and other works of art to various museums in Austria and Moravia.

On his request, the Liechtenstein collection was also reorganised and made more visitor-friendly. Instead of exhibiting the paintings academically simply hanging side by side, the gallery looked more like today's museums by exhibiting furniture, tapestries, sculptures and paintings altogether. This concept was a novelty for its time and thus distinguished the Princely Collections from other art galleries.

Prince Franz Josef II and Prince Hans Adam II
watch as parts of the Collection are brought
to Luzern for an exhibition in 1948
(Photo: Liechtenstein. The Princely
Collections, Vaduz-Vienna)
After 131 years of continuous exhibition, the Princely Collections at the Gartenpalais were closed for the general public in 1938, the year of the Anschluss of Austria into Nazi-Germany. Prince Franz-Josef II (1906-1989) moved his primary residence to Vaduz that same year and towards the end of the Second World War, the Princely Collections were also brought to the Principality.

In the aftermath of the war until the mid-1970's, the Princely Family struggled financially due the loss of about 80% of their assets as well as mismanagement of debt-ridden properties. (More on the matter in the second part of our 101 about the Family's history.) To keep the Family afloat and much to his own dismay, Prince Franz Josef II sold parts of the Collections including Leonardo da Vinci's "Ginevra de' Benci". Acquired by National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. for five million US-Dollars in 1967, it was the most expensive piece of art ever sold at that time. The last painting from the Collections to be sold for financial reasons was Frans Hals' "Portrait of Willem van Heythuysen" in 1969.

Since the 1970's, the Princely Family has continuously bettered their financial situation - which might just be the understatement of the century considering the fact that they are considered to be one of the richest ruling families these days - and over the past few decades, they have started a new acquisition policy. Since 1977, about 700 new pieces of art, either reacquisitions of sold pieces or supplementary works to close the gaps within the collections, have been bought.

The "Badminton Cabinet"
(Photo: Liechtenstein. The Prince-
ly Collections, Vaduz-Vienna)
Besides the obvious choice of paintings, the Princely Family has also acquired tapestries, statues and furniture over the past few years. The most costly new acquisition was the "Badminton Cabinet" which Prince Hans-Adam II purchased for around 27 million euros at an auction in December 2004 making it the most expansive piece of furniture in the world. While the Prince describes himself as an amateur when it comes to art and not a natural art lover, he intends to continue expanding the Family's art collection. About ten years ago, was reported that the Prince Hans-Adam spends around €15 million ($17.8 million) a year on art.

Today, the Princely Collections contain about 1,700 paintings ranging from the early renaissance to the Austrian romantic era including works by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Raphael, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, Frans Hals, Rembrandt, Rudolf von Alt, Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller and Friedrich von Amerling. In addition, the Family also owns very valuable collections of Italian bronzes, prints, engravings, enamelworks, ivories, decorative arms, porcelain, tapestries and furniture.

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