The Heidi Horten Collection: The New Permanent Home

The Heidi Horten collection is one of the largest and most important in the world. It was put together by the homonymous Austrian billionaire, and it covers over 100 years of art history, counting more than 500 pieces, from Munch to Fontana.

But being an art lover and having a considerably large fortune is not enough in order to become one of the greatest art collectors in the world, well intentions and purpose are also a must.

Heidi Goëss-Horten with one of her favorite artworks by Gustav Klimt, Courtesy of Heidi Horten Collection.

Heidi Horten, widow of the business man Helmut Horten, started collecting back in the 70s when, with her husband, they used to travel across Europe. The two were often visiting artists in their studios, and this is when she started to feel truly captured by the creative atmospheres of such places and where her passion begun.

Over time, and with the death of her husband in 1987, Miss. Horten decided to give to art a crucial role in her existence, and working with the Sotheby’s director Agnes Husslein, at the beginning of the 90’s she started building a legacy that is now among the most relevant in the world’s artistic panorama.

At the inauguration of an exhibition that took place last year at the Leopold Museum in Vienna, where 170 pieces of the collection were displayed for the first time as a whole, Heidi told the story of how her collection grew exponentially during the last decades. It was in 1996 when, at an auction in London, she anonymously bought over 30 pieces by artists such as Miro, Chagall, Matisse, Bacon, Kirchner, Hirst and Klimt. In just one night her collection became one of the largest ever, turning her in an A class art collector.

Marc Chagall, Les Amoureux, 1916. Heidi Horten Collection

Her heart belongs to the German expressionists and the Pop Art, but Heidi Horten never stopped collecting, and after 30 years of purchasing paintings and sculptures from all around the world she created several connections between the artists she collects. It is, in fact, extremely important for her that a piece not only has a fascinating story behind, such as Mark Chagall’s “Les Amoureaux”, but that the piece fits the rest of the collection, in terms of content, references and intentions.

Francis Bacon, Study for Portrait of Henrietta Moraes (1964). Courtesy of the Heidi Horten Collection.

By doing this, and by trusting her strong personal taste, she created a labyrinth of thematic paths in which artists from different periods coexist in perfect harmony. Her main concern in picking one painting instead of another is that all her pieces have to be milestones that firmly mark an artist’s work in total, such as “RE1” by Yves Klein, or Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s soup cans”.

The collection has been exhibited in museums such as the MoMa, Pompidou, and Tate Modern over the years, and Miss. Horten understands the importance for her pieces to be shows where this is needed. She often lends works to exhibitions to enrich the retrospective about a certain artist, to make the general public participant of her legacy, and to turn her passion in collecting into a useful archival resource to spread art around the world.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Red Nudes, 1912. Heidi Horten Collection

But the success of the exhibition WOW! The Heidi Horten Collection, at the Leopold Museum in Vienna sparked the idea of seeking a permanent home for her treasured collection. The show was the most popular in the museum’s history, bringing in 360,000 visitors over its five-month run.

Horten has now purchased a historic 22,000-square-foot mansion with two floors and an interior courtyard in Vienna’s city center to house the collection. Three architecture firms submitted proposals in a competition to renovate the venue for the Goëss-Horten collection, which is expected to open in early 2022. Once open you expect large crowds to soak in this incredible collection all at once.


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