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Vienna's Albertina

Durer's hareAlbertinaEvery time I go somewhere abroad for a Liberal International or ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe) gathering I make sure to tag on at least one cultural outing or event. No matter how much one travels, there are always new things to discover, not least in the great cities of Europe. Hearing that the ALDE Council and European Election Rally was going to be in Vienna this Bank Holiday weekend I knew immediately that my cultural treat this time would be the Albertina Museum, home of Albrecht Durer’s astounding portrait of a hare, which is still able to cause wonderment over five hundred years after its creation. Like many great works of art, it is small, almost modest, and it is displayed at the Albertina in a row of other watercolours and drawings, but one is immediately pulled towards it, not just by its celebrity (as I felt was the case with the Mona Lisa in the Louvre) but rather by its perfection, both as a life study of a creature of the field and in the way it captures the essence of hare-ness, as a Zen Buddhist might say. It takes a great deal of force to produce such an image of calm that could be at any moment be shattered if the hare is alarmed and scampers away. So I was certainly not disappointed. But there is so much more than just tat one miniature masterpiece in the Albertina, including a wonderful current show, from Monet to Picasso, with works by many of the greatest painters of the age of Modernism. The paintings of this show are hung sparingly across the exhibition rooms, so one can take in the full impact of each, and unlike in the Louvre or the Hermitage or many of the other great art galleries in the world, one can linger in front of each image as there are no great thronging crowds. Then after the eyes have been satiated with works of art, one can walk through the furnished rooms of the palace itself, redolent of the grandeur of the Habsburgs (who ruled over so much of central Europe), beautifully restored and maintained. In short, a real treasure house.

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