A visit to the apartment of painter and stage decorator Stefan Riedl in a hidden Biedermeier house in Vienna's eights district is like a travel through time.
On first sight the rooms look gloomy and stage like, crammed with furniture, books and candlesticks, paintings on every wall, even in front of the windows. Every visible wall and all the ceilings are decorated with Trompe L'Oeil paintings by Riedl.
But on closer look and trying to face up with this Punk and Baroque concept of living one quickly realizes that the owner, in cheerful resistance to the Zeitgeist of “less is more” and “more light, more light”, and in absolute consequence of his leitmotif, created his very personal realm.
The result is a private cabinet of wonder, dedicated to Baroque, Rococo and Gründerzeit. Smirking, Riedl calls his Gründerzeit furniture “Elephants Rococo” and so easily relativises the dramatic setting of his “cave”.
He recalls that his passion for collecting started out of protest against the love of his parents for scandinavian simplicity. The present of a Gründerzeit doll-house, complete with velvet curtains was cause for a passion that has never since ceased. The doll house is still in Riedl's studio and resides in an enormous wall cabinet that was part of the furnishing in the former palace Rothschild (Palais Albert) in Vienna's fourth district. Two enormous silver candlesticks in Riedl's dining room are also said to have been standing in this hall.
In the dining room there is a gay mixture of styles. Metal Gründerzeit caskets share the room with a neo-baroque altar from the abbey church of Klosterneuburg and a grand candlestick from Villa Trivulzio in Rome.
His bedroom, situated in a sombre alcove, is dominated by a richly inlaid bed from 1660 that Riedl found at an auction of derelict aryanised objects, a 19th century burmese wall hanging and a spanish tabernacle cabinet from the 17th century.
The enormous mirror in the living room was once designed by Austrian architect Emil von Förster on behalf of Erzherzog Franz Ferdinand von Österreich for the renovation of castle Belvedere, the former summer palace of prince Eugen of Savoyen. Right beside it is a richly embroidered 19th century Ottoman doorframe with the Sultan's imprint.
„Nobody wanted these historic pieces thirty years ago, everybody considered them to be atrocious and this was reason enough for me to collect them” Riedl recounts astute, “so I never was in danger to resell my collection when I needed money, as nobody would have payed for it”.
Precious and less precious pieces, quirky and beautiful things have accumulated over the years in his apartment. But Riedl does not collect without plan or goal, his seemingly casual attitude towards his collection is only camouflage. He loves every single piece, knows their history and choses with profound historical knowledge.
Riedl's motto shows consequently in all rooms of his apartment, be it his wonderfully accomplished Trompe L'Oeil paintings on walls and ceilings, his skilled copies of paintings by Velasquez or his interpretation of Caravaggio's “Amor as destroyer” smiling from a voluminous 17th century frame. Many portraits of friends and family accomplish the setting.
Every year Riedl's work can be admired on the settings for Vienna's Life Ball and his paintings decorate the rooms of Vienna's Kaiserbründl, a former turkish bath.www.stefanriedl.atText by Yvonne von Oswald