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Art Returns to the Palais Liechtenstein

From the Christian Science Monitor, there is this article (A collection fit for a prince, April 30) by Charles Hawley, about the reopening of the Liechtenstein Palace Museum in Vienna (on March 28), which will house the Princely Collection of Baroque art that was taken from Austria in 1944 (after being sealed up in its building in 1938), to avoid looting by the Nazis, and put into storage in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, where it remained for seven decades. The collection, which includes works by Raphael, Anthony van Dyck, Peter Paul Rubens, and Rembrandt, will now be available again for public viewing (only a few works were allowed to leave storage since World War II to be shown in temporary exhibits). The renovation of Das Fürstenhaus von Liechtenstein (an excellent Web site with amazing text and images) and gardens cost €23 million ($28.3 million).

But the construction work did yield a surprise bonus. A number of beautiful ceiling frescoes (circa 1705–1708) by Johann Michael Rottmayr were rediscovered underneath a stucco and canvas covering that had been installed in 1819 to combat leakage. [Here are some images of the Rottmayr frescoes and others by Andrea Pozzo.] Once the renewal work on the frescoes is completed next year, the building will be almost as much of an attraction as the paintings it holds. The museum's highlight is the display of the "Decius Mus" cycle—a series of eight paintings by Rubens created between 1616 and 1617.
The Prince of Liechtenstein himself, Hans-Adam II, spoke at the press conference organized to reopen the museum, at which he acknowledged the many people who helped save so much of the collection.
Even after World War II, there were numerous difficulties to overcome. The Liechtenstein family lost more than 80 percent of its wealth during and immediately after the war and was forced to sell a number of paintings. Recently, the prince has begun a €15 million ($18.5 million) purchasing program to expand the collection and to buy back many of those paintings that were sold. Some paintings, however, are unlikely ever to return. "We will probably never be able to get back our Leonardo," says [director Dr. Johann] Kräftner, referring to a painting by da Vinci. "It is now in the National Gallery in Washington."

Because of the museum's private status, the prince was also unsure whether Vienna would be able to supply the 300,000 annual visitors the project needed to survive financially, and he had considered Paris or New York as a possible home. The site is not perfect—only about 170 of the nearly 1,600 art pieces in the collection can be displayed at once. Kräftner is hoping eventually to open a second museum to remedy the problem.
Well, Dr. Kräftner, we here in Washington are sorry about your Leonardo, but we have sure have enjoyed looking at it over the years. If you get serious about a location for a second museum, there would be at least one Baroque specialist who would be happy to see it built right here in Washington.

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