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Altar of Dionysus, 1886

Leopold Museum,
Oil on canvas
32×158 cm


  • Gustav Klimt

    (Baumgarten near Vienna/Vienna 1862–1918 Vienna)

Currently on display at OG4
The painter and graphic artist Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) created this oil painting with a mythological motif in the context of the works executed by the Künstler-Compagnie for the Burgtheater in 1886. It is a draft for one of the tympana of the two grand staircases. The tympana are twelve meters long, but very narrow. Unlike in the case of the ceiling panels, Klimt was able to choose the image motif for these spaces freely. Nevertheless, a reference to the history of the theater in Europe made sense, which is why he decided to depict an altar of Dionysus. The orgiastic goings-on surrounding the god of wine were considered a historic root of the theater tradition in ancient Greece. Below the highest point of the arch, Klimt positioned an altar with a bust of Dionysus. Two of the god’s notorious female followers, called maenads, are depicted to the left and right. One of them – holding the thyrsus staff as an attribute – is turned towards the iconic image, while the other one, who seems exhausted from their ecstatic activities, is holding a laurel wreath. Klimt also created detailed Hand Studies for the kneeling maenad. He kept the basic idea of the composition for the work’s final execution, but changed many details: The reclining maenad, for instance, is still half-dressed in this draft, but completely nude in the final wall painting.

A closer look

The artwork explained by
art expert Alexandra Matzner

Object data

  • Gustav Klimt
Altar of Dionysus
Art movement
Oil on canvas
32×158 cm
Signed lower left: GUSTAV KLIMT
Credit line
Leopold Museum, Vienna, Inv. 6521, Donation from a Collection
Inventory access
Accession 2020
Selection of Reference works
  • Tobias Natter: Gustav Klimt. Sämtliche Gemälde, Köln 2012.
Catalogue raisonne
  • Natter 2012: 58

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Provenance research
Leopold Museum i

Baukommission des Burgtheaters, Wien (1886);
Unbekannter Privatbesitz, Wien (o.D.);
Auktion: 10.10.1929, Dorotheum Wien, 398. Kunstauktion, Los Nr. 28;
Auktion: 12.05.1933; Dorotheum Wien, 102. Grosse Auktion, Los Nr. 543; (1)
Privatbesitz, Wien (1933);
Dr. Franz Georg Strafella , Schloß Oberandritz, Graz (1933-1966);
Dr. Robert Schöbel, Wien (ab 1966); (2)
Galerie Helmut Klewan, Wien (vor 1970); (3)
Creditanstalt-Bankverein, Wien (Anfang der 1970er Jahre erworben);
Bank Austria Creditanstalt, Wien (2002);
Unicredit Bank Austria AG, Wien (2008); (4)
Auktion: 24.11.2020, Dorotheum Wien, Auktion Klassische Moderne, Los 1
Ankauf durch eine Privatperson und Schenkung an das Leopold Museum
Leopold Museum-Privatstiftung, Wien (seit 2020); (5)

  1. Markus Fellinger, Klimt, die Künstler-Compagnie und das Theater. In: Agnes Husslein-Arco und Alexander Klee (Hg.), Klimt und die Ringstraße, Wien 2015, S. 35-48; Ann-Kathrin Nonnemacher, Untersuchungsbericht: Gustav Klimt, Altar des Dionysos (1886), Leopold Museum Wien, Inv.-Nr. LM 6521
  2. Archiv des Leopold Museums, E-mail Dr. Markus Fellinger (Belvedere) an Dr. Alfred Fehringer (LMPS) vom 07.10.2021; Inventar der Kunstsammlung Dr. Franz Georg Strafellas
  3. Telefonische Auskunft durch Helmut Klewan vom 19.07.2021
  4. Dorotheum Wien, Katalog zur Auktion vom 24.11.2020, Klassische Moderne, Los Nr. 1
    (online-Katalog abgefragt am 15.01.2021); Tobias Natter (Hg.), Gustav Klimt. Sämtliche Gemälde, Köln 2012, S. 539f., Nr. 58; Archiv des Leopold Museums, E-Mail von Dr. Felicitas Thurn an Dr. Alfred Fehringer (LMPS) vom 09.03.2021.
  5. Archiv des Leopold Museums, Schenkungsvertrag vom 02.12.2020

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