About the Picture Archives and Graphics Department


The graphics collection today includes more than 600,000 objects: printed graphics, historic photographs, water colours, drawings and art objects, as well as the archives of the former “royal and imperial family Fidel commis Library”. It contains portraits of persons, representations of historic events, landscapes and cityscapes, views of buildings, illustrations of plants and animals, and regional cultural illustrations from every part of Europe and the area once called Austria. Important groupings of items are the collection of the Swiss physiognomist Johann Caspar Lavater (1741 – 1801), about 22,000 artistic sheets, a comprehensive collection of botanical and zoological pages; and more than 600 portrait miniatures showing mostly members of the imperial family. The biggest holdings are made up of the portrait collection with about 200,000 printed graphic portraits of prominent persons from early modern times till the present. The Ex Libris Collection consists of some 9,000 sheets from the period 1500 - 1850. The core of the collection is made up of ex libris from the books of the Court Library, together with  Rudolf  Benkard’s collection, acquired in 1930, with more than 6,000 sheets from the 16th to the 18th centuries. In the 1970’s, because of new purchases and donations, the time focus shifted to the first half of the 20th century. Since 1996 the collection, having expanded to about 50,000 small-scale graphics, has been documenting contemporary ex libris creations as well.

The former “royal and imperial family Fidei commis Library” housessome 116,000 volumes. It owes its existence tothe love of books and passionate collecting of Emperor Franz I, and consists of works of literature, history, technology, natural sciences, geography and philosophy. In his will of 1st March, 1835, Emperor Franz I commanded that his private library should henceforth constitute a “primogenitural fidei commis” for his male descendants. On 24th August 1849 Emperor Franz Joseph I signed a document that declared all works in the imperial private library to be inalienable fidei commis for the male descendants of Franz I according to the rights of the first-born. In 1921 the Fidei commis Library was taken over as the property of the Republic and joined to the National Library.

Among the most important holdings of the Picture Archives today are the estate of Madame d’Ora (1920’s), the estate of Lucca Chmel, the archives of the photo journalist Harry Weber, and the earliest coloured plates of the artistic photographer Heinrich Kühn. The holdings of the Picture Archive are continuously being broadened and made more current by acquisition of estates and selected genres of photographers. The subjects matter covered by the objects collected in the Picture Archive – mostly negative plates and original prints – is widespread and naturally has an emphasis of Austrian themes. The main focus is on portraits, studio photographs, travel films, and documentation of architecture and reporting in the period from 1870 to 1970. Important works from the early days of photography had already found their way into the imperial Fidei commis Library. Valuable special collections of posters, acquired through donations, sponsoring, and purchase, complete the obligatory contributions to the holdings and offer a comprehensive documentation of Austrian graphic design, especially from the 20th century.A striking expansion of the holdings occurred when, in 1939, the “Collection of Negatives of the Austrian Photographic and Film Services” (ÖLFD) and the “Austrian Photography Centre” were transferred and incorporated into the newly founded Picture Archive of the Austrian National Library. About a million photographic negatives and the newly acquired estates of prominent Austrian photographers make the Picture Archive of the Austrian National Library the largest documentation centre of historical and contemporary photography in Austria.

last update 9/3/2015