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Biedermeier art collection to go on show in the City Palace, Vienna

The space will be the second venue in the city to host the Prince of Liechtenstein's art collection

The Prince of Liechtenstein is to open a second museum in Vienna, in his City Palace. The Art Newspaper can reveal that it will cost E90m, making it one of the largest heritage projects undertaken by a private individual in post-war Europe. We are the first publication to be given a tour of the interior, which now resembles a building site.

Located in the historic centre of Vienna, the new museum will present the prince’s magnificent collection of 19th-century Biedermeier art. Along with the prince’s Garden Palace, which opened five years ago, it will double the amount of art that can be shown from what is arguably the world’s greatest private collection after that of the British royal family.

Prince Hans-Adam II is head of state of Liechtenstein, but his family has had close ties with Vienna for centuries. The City Palace was their main residence until the Nazi Anschluss in 1938, when they fled to Vaduz, Liechtenstein’s tiny capital.

Since the war the City Palace has been rented out, most recently to two Austrian government departments, the ministry of culture and the ministry of foreign affairs. Both held permanent leases, and there were lengthy negotiations over their departure, involving substantial financial compensation.

Last summer Prince Hans-Adam II made a final decision to proceed with restoration of the palace. He has vast financial resources thanks to the success of LGT Group (the largest bank in Liechtenstein), which is owned by his family. Although many banks have had an extremely difficult past few months, LGT is involved in private banking and has continued to thrive.

The site of the City Palace had been acquired by Prince Johann Adam in 1694, and the building was completed in 1705. Designed by Domenico Martinelli, it was inspired by the high baroque of Rome.

The palace was extensively remodelled in the 1840s by Prince Alois II, in a lavish neo-rococo style.

After 1945 the building was converted into offices, so when restoration work began last autumn the first task was to strip away modern partitions and other post-war additions. Among the discoveries was a fine stone fireplace of about 1700, which was found disassembled and hidden away behind a wooden wall panel.

The main architectural features have survived remarkably well, although considerable restoration will be required. There is a magnificent staircase by Martinelli from around 1700, decorated with sculptures by Giovanni Giuliani. The main rooms have ornate stucco decorated walls, which were gilded during the redecoration of the 1840s.

When it becomes a museum, visitors will come through the main entrance in Bankgasse, and ascend the Martinelli staircase to the first floor, where three large rooms will be open, including the grand ballroom. On the floor above, which is equally ornate, all nine major rooms around the courtyard will be used for museum displays. The open central courtyard, where an archaeological exca­vation has just been completed, will become an underground art store.

Half of the palace will serve as the Vienna headquarters of the LGT bank. These will be in the plainer rooms, which would be of less interest to visitors. Costs of the main restoration work are estimated at E78m, but additional costs are likely to push up the total to about E90m.

Although Prince Hans-Adam II made the key decision to fund the project, his wife, Princess Marie, is more involved on the artistic side. The project manager is Johann Kräftner, director of the Liechtenstein Museum. The City Palace museum is scheduled to open in December 2011.

Renovation of the prince’s Summer Palace, which lies just outside Vienna’s inner ring road, cost E23m in 2004. The plan is to show pre-1800 art there, with later works (primarily Biedermeier) in the City Palace.

The Biedermeier collection includes paintings by Friedrich von Amerling, Ferdinand Waldmüller and Rudolf von Alt, sculptures, decorative art and furniture. The prince is actively collecting, and among his latest purchases is Amerling’s Girl with a Straw Hat, 1835, which was bought at Vienna’s Dorotheum on 15 October for E1.5m.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Prince of Liechtenstein’s second venue'