History Tales. Fact and Fiction in History Painting

The exhibition explores the representation of history in terms of identity and nation. How is the rise and fall of civilisations depicted? How is the hubris of humankind allegorised? And what sort of media transformations has the invention of photography and film brought about on the representations of myths, heroes, heroines, rulers and sovereigns as well as on pivotal historical events since the 19th century right through to the present day? 

History Tales. Fact and Fiction in History Painting examines history painting in the light of the Academy’s own historical collections – its Paintings Gallery, Graphic Collection, Plaster Cast Collection – and prominent loans from museums as well as of works by contemporary artists. The capacity of the history painting and its variations in the age of mass media to oscillate between fact and fiction and make historicity itself the subject matter of the image is examined from today’s perspective. 

The exhibition is designed as an itinerary through the centuries and takes as its starting point the visualisation of the Golden Age and the Iron Age. It continues via mythological depictions of the figure of the virgin at the service of nation-building to heroes and heroines, rulers and sovereigns, offset against anti-heroes and parodies in 19th century press graphics. The French Revolution and its aftermath are explored alongside the Vienna Academy and its exponents Füger and successors, who revived heroic history painting once again around 1800. Natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions and their reception in the late 18th century are also part of the history. The genre of battle depictions and their more fictional than factual ‘event painting’ from the 16th to the 21st century are also addressed, as is the literary cross-media approach to the Holocaust, the Second World War and the wars in Lebanon and Afghanistan. This raises the question of the factuality and authenticity of photography as well as the aesthetic and ideological demands placed on the 19th century’s new medium for depicting reality. Finally, the exhibition leads into the ‘inferno’ of the Bosch Room with its depictions of the Last Judgement, Dante’s Divine Comedy and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness

At a time when the talk everywhere is of a ‘turning point’, a Zeitenwende, and new nationalist tendencies and wars threaten to rip apart the political fabric, both in Europe and globally, the exhibition questions and challenges our understanding of history in depictions while analysing how myths and historical events are always subject to interpretations shaped by the age in which they are ‘revisited’. History Tales tells the story of these revisionary movements in the interpretation of ‘history paintings’, through which images of the past can become encapsulated commentaries on the present. 

Artists / writers / filmmakers / researchers / illustrators (selection): 

Josef Abel, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Jan Asselijn, Hieronymus Bosch, Sébastien Bourdon (attributed), Jacques Callot, Antonio Calza, Wilhelm Camphausen, Daniel Chodowiecki, Hendrick van Cleve, Jacques Courtois, Lucas Cranach t. E., Henri Durand-Brager, Eduard von Engerth, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Heinrich Friedrich Füger, Peter Johann Nepomuk Geiger, Artemisia Gentileschi (attributed), Luca Giordano, Pietro Graziani, Jakob Philipp Hackert, Sir William Hamilton, Theophil von Hansen, Karel du Jardin, Joseph Anton Koch, Johann Peter Krafft, Johann Baptist von Lampi t. E., Filippo Lauri, Charles-Nicolas Lemercier, Herman van Lin, Philippe Jacques de Loutherbourg, Nicolaes Maes, Hans Makart, Édouard Manet, Hubert Maurer, Adolph Menzel, Martin von Molitor, Petros Moraites, Felix Alexander Oppenheim, Max Raphael, Johann Elias Ridinger, Hubert Robert, Salvator Rosa, Peter Paul Rubens, Johann Martin Schmidt known as Kremser Schmidt, Ludwig Ferdinand Schnorr von Carolsfeld, Johann Nepomuk Schödlberger, Moritz von Schwind, Francesco Solimena, Theodoor van Thulden, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Tiziano Vecellio known as Titian, Paul Troger, Charles André Vanloo, Paolo Veronese, Jacques Antoine Volaire, Johann Wittmer, Philips Wouwerman, Michael Wutky

Plaster casts after antique and classicist models, historical photographs and press graphics

Contemporary positions such as Eleanor Antin, John Berger, Hannes Boeck, Marcel Broodthaers, Anne Carson, Danica Dakić, Harun Farocki, Omer Fast, Cyprien Gaillard, Ulrike Grossarth, Alexander Kluge, John Murphy, W. G. Sebald, Megan Francis Sullivan, Ana Torfs, Akram Zaatari

Curated by Sabine Folie

The exhibition catalogue with texts by Maha El Hissy, Sabine Folie, Eva Kernbauer, Claudia Koch, Alexander Roob, René Schober, Bernd Stiegler, Gudrun Swoboda et. al. is available in the shop of the Paintings Gallery or can be ordered at kunstsammlungen@akbild.ac.at

Paintings Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna
Schillerplatz 3, 1st floor, 1010 Vienna 

Opening hours 
Daily except Monday
10–18 h

T +43 1 588 16 2201 
F +43 1 588 16 2299 

Guided tours every Sunday at 10.30 h
Lektionen / Lessons
The lecture series on the exhibition

Further information and press release >

Exhibition booklet >