Waltraud Blauensteiner was born Waltraud Vogel on 25 September 1906 in Wigstadtl, a small town in the district of Troppau. At that time, this area belonged to Austrian Silesia and was thus part of the Habsburg Monarch. After World War I, it became part of Czechoslovakia, then became part of the German Empire in 1938, and is now in the Czech Republic.
With the successful completion of school, she moved to Vienna and studied art history at the University of Vienna from 1925-1929 with Professor Strzygowski, with whom she graduated in 1932 with the thesis ‘Romanesque architectural sculpture in Bohemia and Moravia’. In 1928 she also enrolled at the Technische Hochschule (Technical University), majoring in architecture, first as a non-degree student, then from 1929 as a regular student.
Josef Strzygowski, her professor in art history, was an important art historian. He supported female students and a large number of Jewish employees, but at the same time parts of his publications were put on an index for books with National Socialist ideas after the Second World War. In this period between the two world wars, Vienna was a place where intellectual, ideological, and economic directions were discussed – also in the art business. Young students like Waltraud Vogel were socialised in this period of change, between tradition and modernity.
Between 1935 and 1939 she worked for various architecture firms in Vienna and Silesia. In 1939 she then found employment at the architecture firm Klaudy & Lippert, where she remained until 1944. Between 1939 and 1945, this office mainly designed and built industrial buildings and factory housing estates for the Organisation Todt (OT) and thus for the Nazi regime. The war had severely limited both the number of commissions available to freelance architects and the possibilities of employment for architecture graduates. The only available jobs were for the party apparatus or in the construction offices of the war and armaments industries.
In 1941, Waltraud Vogel married the art historian Kurt Blauensteiner, curator at the Österreichische Galerie. He was the son of the regional director of the Reichskammer der bildenden Künster (the Third Reich’s Imperial Chamber of Fine Arts) in Vienna. Leopold Blauensteiner was an important political figure in the art scene, as the Reichskammer was responsible for the ‘Gleichschaltung’ of art and culture in the sense of Nazi propaganda.
Waltraud Blauensteiner herself had also applied for membership in the Reichskammer der bildenden Künstler in December 1940. At that time, membership was a prerequisite for any artistic profession.
Widowed since 1943, Waltraud Blauensteiner found employment at the Austrian Federal Monuments Office after the end of the war, pursued her career there, and was the Head of Conservation for Vienna from January 1955 to December 1966. The work of the Federal Monuments Office was challenging in the post-war period, as there was a lack of building materials, lack of transportation, few qualified personnel and varying levels of support from the Allies.
In addition to its main task of recording war damage to historic buildings and carrying out conservation measures, the Federal Monuments Office had another, albeit lesser-known, function. Since Austria’s ‘Anschluss’ to National Socialist Germany, many works of art had been transported to Germany from Austrian museums, from the museums of the occupied countries, and looted art from mostly Jewish private ownership. At the end of the war, the U.S. military authorities established the Central Art Collecting Point in Munich, the largest art collection centre in the American occupation zone, with the aim of sifting through, inventorying and restituting the found, recovered, and rescued works. Employees of the Austrian Federal Monuments Office were then sent to Munich to assert ‘restitution claims’ and to represent Austrian interests. Austria occupied a special position, as it had not existed as an independent country between 1938 and 1945. For political reasons, Austria had been recognized by the Allies as Hitler’s first victim, a very advantageous decision for Austria. However, immediately after the war, the legal issues and responsibilities, not to mention moral obligations, were still completely unresolved.
From December 1946 to 1949, Waltraud Blauensteiner was sent to Munich on a work contract basis by the Federal Monuments Office. She was entrusted with the task of recording and repatriating these art objects. No easy task. The various interests of the parties involved, those of the Germans, the Austrians, but also the Allied military representatives, could not have been more different.
One interesting point that shows the complexity of museum policy and the art business of the time should also be mentioned here. While Waltraud Blauensteiner was busy with the registration and repatriation of works from former Austrian holdings in the post-war period, only a few years earlier her husband Kurt Blauensteiner had inventoried Aryanised art and helped to ensure that the state-organized theft of art and its incorporation into museum collections proceeded smoothly.
After four gruelling years, Waltraud Blauensteiner finally returned to Vienna in 1949 and found her calling here. In the years that followed, she focussed on the preservation of historical monuments, on the planning and execution of restoration work and reconstruction projects. Some of these include the repair of bomb damage to the Schwarzenberg Palace, the restoration of the Winter Palace of Prince Eugene, the restoration of the Laudon Palace in Hadersdorf, and the State Hall of the National Library. From 1955 to 1966, she held a leading position as the Head of Conservation in Vienna.
Additionally, her publications and articles in specialist journals contributed greatly to the understanding of the problems of the Federal Monuments Office. She was not only interested in the preservation of individual buildings, but also in the theoretical issues of old town restoration. Reading the detailed descriptions of her work, it is not difficult to see her enthusiasm for her subject areas. In her work for the Federal Monuments Office, she was able draw on her professional competences, both as an architect and as an art historian.
for the Federal Monuments Office
Removal of bomb damage to the Palais Schwarzenberg
Restoration of the Winter Palace of Prince Eugene
1960 – 64 Restoration of the Laudon Palace in Hadersdorf
Restoration of the State Hall of the National Library
Archiv der Zentralvereinigung Österreich, Landesverband Wien, Nö & Bgld.
Archiv des Bundesdenkmalamts, Personalakt Waltraud Blauensteiner
Archiv der Republik (Staatsarchiv), AT-OeStA/AdR UWFuK BMU PA Sign 3 und Sign 8, Waltraud Blauensteiner
Sabine Plakolm-Forsthuber: Wege und Irrwege der ersten Architektinnen in der ZV (1925-1959), in: Ingrid Holzschuh, (Hrsg): BauKultur in Wien 1938-1959, p. 52
Selbstverlag des Bundesdenkmalamtes: Denkmalpflege in Österreich 1945 – 1970, Wien, 1970
Iris Lauterbach: Der Central Collecting Point in München: Kunstschutz, Restitution, Neubeginn, München/Berlin, 2015
Karl Johns: Josef Strzygowski (1862-1941). In: Journal of Art Historiography Nr. 17/ 2017
Friedirch Polleroß: Josef Strzygowski: Seine Teil-Nachlässe sowie seine Schüler und Schülerinnen zwischen Zionismus und Nationalsozialismus. In: Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für vergleichende Kunstforschung in Wien 73 (2021), Nr. 3, p. 1-22
Die Bühne: issue 11/1945
Österreichische Zeitschrift für Kunst, Kunsthandwerk und Wohnkultur, Nr. 7/8, 1957
photo: Auf dem Fragebogen um die Aufnahme in die Reichskammer der bildenden Kunst, Wien 1940, Archiv der Zentralvereinigung Österreich, Landesverband Wien, Nö & Bgld.
Text: Christine Oertel