It was built between 1865 and 1868 by the Austrian Artists' Society (Gesellschaft bildender Künstler Österreichs, Künstlerhaus), the oldest surviving artists' society in Austria. It has served since then as an exhibition centre for painting, sculpture, architecture and applied art. Since 1947 it has also managed a cinema, which is used as one of the screening venues for the annual Viennale film festival.
History of the society
The society has its roots in the suburb of Laimgrube, now part of Mariahilf. Here, on the site of a guesthouse, Leopold Ernst had a Neo-Gothic festival hall built (at a great loss) in 1847. The hall became the meeting place of the Society of Young Artists and Academics, which was founded in 1851 and later renamed the Albrecht Dürer Society.
In 1861 it merged with another artists' society, Eintracht, to form a new association representing Viennese painters, sculptors and architects: the Vienna Artists' Society. In 1868 the society moved into its current premises. In 1897 a number of modern artists seceded from the Künstlerhaus and founded the Vienna Secession.
In 1972 the society opened its membership to practitioners of applied art, and in 1976 it was renamed the "Austrian Artists' Society, Künstlerhaus". Since 1983 the Society has included filmmakers and audio-visual artists among its members. Its limited company (Künstlerhaus-Ges. m. b. H.), founded in 1985, organises exhibitions both for the Künstlerhaus and for other museums and institutions.
History of the building
The architect of the building was August Weber (1836–1903). Several types of Austrian stone were used, supplied by the Viennese firm Anton Wasserburger. Emperor Franz Joseph I laid the keystone.
Opened on 1 September 1868 as one of the earliest Ringstraße buildings, it was designed in the style of an Italian Renaissance villa, after Jacopo Sansovino. At the time, it stood next to the banks of the Wien River, which still flowed openly in the city. The building was significantly expanded as early as 1882 with a pair of side wings. These were later used to house a cinema (from 1949) and a theatre (from 1974). Also in 1882, the Society held the "First International Art Exhibition in the Künstlerhaus". The inner garden was roofed over in 1888.
In the 20th century, real estate observers speculated that the Society was under pressure to demolish the building in favor of something larger, as it is unusually low-rise for the Ringstraße area, or to rebuild it. For example, the "Kaym-Hetmanek Plan" in the early 1930s proposed to replace the historic pavilion with eight-storey apartment blocks. The recommendations of an architectural planning competition for Karlsplatz in 1946 showed that the city of Vienna considered the Künstlerhaus, as well as the Office of Transport building, as expendable. In 1956–57 the Society modernised the Stiftersaal room.
In 1966, Karl Schwanzer proposed a plan to build large offices for IBM on the site of the Künstlerhaus, which met with widespread objections among residents and the media. The previous year, protests had followed the decision to tear down the old Florianikirche.  The Society preserved the Künstlerhaus.
In the 21st century, new plans have been discussed to expand and rebuild the Künstlerhaus, so as to integrate it more closely into the "museum cluster" on Karlsplatz. For example, in July 2010 the architect Beppo Mauhart proposed the addition of two new buildings to this site.
- Wilhelm Rüdiger (editor): Junge Kunst im Deutschen Reich. Ehrlich & Schmidt, Vienna, 1943. (in German)
- Wladimir Aichelburg: Das Wiener Künstlerhaus 1861 - 2001 (Volume 1). Vienna, 2003. (in German)
- Robert Schediwy: Städtebilder. Reflexionen zum Wandel in Architektur und Urbanistik at Google Books. Münster, 2004 / Vienna, 2005. (in German)
- Rezension: Wladimir Aichelburg, Das Wiener Künstlerhaus 1861-2001 Gerd Pichler, Kunsthistoriker aktuell, 2003. (in German)
- Walter Koschatzky: Rudolf von Alt, 2nd edition, Böhlau, Vienna, 2001, ISBN 3-205-99397-7, p.214 (limited preview, p. 214, at Google Books). (in German)
- "Künstlerhaus", Austria Forum, 12 March 2010. (in German)
- Das Künstlerhaus in Wien In: Allgemeine Bauzeitung, 1881. With diagrams and pictures. From Anno (Austrian Newspapers Online). (in German)
- Die Geschichte des Wiener Künstlerhauses: Das geistige Antlitz - 100 Jahre Künstlerhaus 1861–1961 Walther Maria Neuwirth; history of the Künstlerhaus written to commemorate its 100-year anniversary. (in German)
- Franz Kaym Architektenlexikon, Architekturzentrum Wien. (in German)
- "Historisches über den 5. Bezirk", Vienna Online, 4 April 2008. (in German)
- "Neue Pläne für das Künstlerhaus", Die Presse, 15 July 2010. (in German)
- Vienna Künstlerhaus, Home page
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