Portraits and Death Masks

Along with topographical objects, the portrait collection forms the Wien Museum’s most extensive collection. Its original aim was to document as comprehensively as possible the history of Vienna and the Danubian Monarchy in general, and the Habsburg Dynasty in particular. All the portraits of rulers from the Old City Hall can thus now be found in the Wien Museum.

One key sub-collection, sorted alphabetically by name, is a collection of more than 1,600 portrait lithographs by Josef Kriehuber (1800-1876), acquired early on in the 19th century. Considered the most important portrait lithographer of his era, Kriehuber counted Vienna’s entire “High Society” among his clientele between 1830 and 1860; indeed, his depictions resemble an “album of the city”. Also exceptional is the so-called “Wurzbach Collection”, which encompasses more than 100,000 images of personalities from politics, art and science.

Several hundred works make up the collection of portrait busts and sculptures of entire figures. The largest part of the collection dates from the second half of the nineteenth century and is intimately bound up with names such as Kaspar Zumbusch, Karl Kundmann, and, above all, Viktor Tilgner. Tilgner’s portrait sculptures captured countless famous Viennese personages of his time, including politicians, actors, scholars and scientists, and other public figures. With over a hundred sculptures, Tilgner’s work is particularly well represented in the Wien Museum.

A further large sub-collection is the “Lueger Inventory”. This consists of objects from the estate of the Viennese mayor Karl Lueger, who died in 1910, including some 50 portraits of “handsome Karl”, a popular man though held to have been extremely vain. No mayor of Vienna before or since has sat for portraits as frequently as Lueger. The other Viennese mayors are also represented in the form of full-length paintings.

While portraits of men dominate in large parts of the portrait collection, the miniature collection comprising several hundred objects focuses on depictions of women. Idealised feminine figures such as “the beloved”, “the fiancée”, “the bride” or generalised ideals of female beauty are the themes to be found on the highly artistic and delicate (watercolour) pictures painted on ivory, marble or small metal plates from the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Among the many thousands of portrait photos which reach back to the 1860s, the most frequently found are those depicting actresses and actors of the Viennese stages (e.g. Charlotte Wolter and Josephine Gallmeyer), artists, musicians and writers (most notable of all being the Karl Kraus Collection), though also photos of members of the Habsburg Dynasty (e.g. Empress Elisabeth).

One rarity is the collection of around 280 death masks originating from pre-eminent Viennese personalities of the 19th and 20th centuries. The death masks of famous composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven, Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler can be found here, but also those of well-known writers like Franz Grillparzer or Adalbert Stifter, or the death masks of artists like Hans Makart and Gustav Klimt.