Elisabeth and Rudolf Leopold © Leopold Museum

History of the Collection


It took five decades to compile the collection. In 2001 it found its definite location. Together with the Republic of Austria and the Austrian National Bank, the collector Dr. Rudolf Leopold, who died in 2010 at the age of 85, consolidated his collection, which is now exhibited in a museum built by the Austrian state, into a private foundation. It is the largest and most visited museum in the newly created MuseumsQuartier.

The main focus of the collection lies on Austrian art of the first half of the 20th century, including major paintings and drawings by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. Here the transition from art nouveau to expressionism gets comprehensible step by step. The art historic context is imparted by Austrian 19th and 20th century masterpieces.

In the spacious rooms awash with light one does not only encounter paintings and drawings but also precious art handicraft and furniture of the era of the Wiener Werkstätte and original artworks by Adolf Loos, Otto Wagner and Josef Hoffmann. A further focus of the collection lies on African and Oceanic sculptures. Such objects served as inspirational source for many artists of Classic Modernist movements.

Until the occupation of the museum, the Leopold family lived amid the paintings and used the furniture and everyday objects. What began with the first painting purchased by the young medical student Leopold, later truly got an obsession with art. In 1994 Rudolf Leopold consolidated more than 5,000 art objects into the private foundation valued at 575 million Euros.

The enormous increase in value stems mostly from the fact that the collector understood the value of art that was generally frowned upon long before others. Until the 1960s, Klimt and Schiele were not quite appreciated in Austria but even despised. Rudolf Leopold never listened to the verdicts of his contemporaries and at auctions sometimes even laid himself open to ridicule, like in 1954 when he purchased a nude study by Schiele, which was still regarded as „degenerated and pornographic“ back then, amidst laughter of the present audience.

When buying or trading art, Leopold built on his esthetic judgment – and time proved him right. A subjective selection grew into a broadly recognized cultural institution, a collector’s museum. Because of its content and substance, it is impossible to imagine the Viennese museum landscape without it by now. The huge cube made of bright stone coins the entire MuseumQuartier. Inside, one can gain insight into a pivotal part of Austrian history and cultural identity.

To discover overlooked art has always been and still is the principle of a collector, which also coins the program of special exhibitions. Besides academic accounting for Austrian art history, special exhibitions shine a light on confrontations of different artistic positions as well as new aspects of the collection.

In conversation with Professor Leopold, he liked to trace his success story back to his talent to comprehend the creation of an art work with his „artistically seeing“eye. His special skill resided in a more accurate perception, in an experienced comparison and inspired highlighting of what is essential. He always used his subjective feelings and moods to make a selection, a series or presentation. By doing so, he became the creator of an artistic synthesis born out of an unswervingly avant-garde attitude and quite in the sense of the Viennese secessionists. As a museum it now bears his name, as a whole it is metonymic with the Viennese Modern Age.

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