The Kunsthistorisches Museum turned out to be an attraction of the first rank immediately after its opening, drawing huge crowds of visitors.
In the first months between 18 October and 31 December 1891 the museum recorded 211,335 visitors – even though until 1907 it was only open on four days of the week for four hours each day. On 27 December alone, 15,527 visitors thronged the exhibition halls to view the imperial art collections, amounting to almost 4,000 people an hour.
The opening of the new museum on 17 October 1891 was a highlight in the social calendar: the list of guests was a who’s who of the leading personalities from politics, industry, science, art and culture.
For their money (priced at one crown, admission was cheap), visitors to the imperial museums could see a wealth of objects: the holdings of the Kunsthistorisches Museum were based mainly on the collection of portraits and armour assembled by Ferdinand of Tyrol, surviving pieces from the collections of Emperor Rudolf II, which had however mostly been dispersed, and from his cabinet of art and curiosities, together with the paintings collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, the most important Habsburg collector of paintings.
In the ‘gallery painting’ still in the possession of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Leopold Wilhelm pays a visit to his collection of paintings accompanied by his gallery director, David Teniers, who painted the picture, and his retinue. He assembled this collection of approximately 1,400 works mainly during his governorship of the Netherlands. On his return to Vienna he displayed them in the Stallburg and bequeathed them to his nephew, Emperor Leopold I. Almost all of the fifty-one Italian paintings to be seen in this picture are still held by the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Gallery paintings were a traditional genre in the Netherlands and served as gifts to be presented by the owner to his aristocratic friends and fellow-collectors – this one was given to Leopold Wilhelm’s brother, Emperor Ferdinand III.
To view some of the original paintings held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, click on the image.