Deutschkreutz: Castle of Living Art
Once an Esterhàzy estate, it is home-studio for leading Austrian artist Anton Lehmden, and a burgeoning cultural arts centre
For people who know wine, Schloss Deutschkreutz in Burgenland is the home of Austria’s most famous domestic red, the Blaufränkisch. With only an hour and a half travel time from Vienna to the south east, this would be reason enough to visit such a lush corner of the Austrian countryside for a day trip from town.
However, this lovely 17th century Schloss, for more than two centuries one of the lesser country estates of the Esterhàzy family, has since 1966 been the home and studio of leading Austrian artist Anton Lehmden. A co-founder of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism, Lehmden appears to be influenced by the fascinating and impossible concoctions of the Dutch artist M.C. Escher, a generation his senior, and includes whimsical, pliable landscapes, buildings and animals that defy nature, yet somehow still describe a world we recognise as our own.
With his family, Lehmden has devoted over three decades to restoring the neglected castle to its earlier glory and filling it with creative life.
"One can call it a real way to meeting living art," Lehmden’s daughter Barbara said. Lehmden’s studio is open to the public as are his painting classes at the Lehmden Sommerakademie. In more recent years, the Lehmdens have also developed a program of cultural events – readings, music, theater and dance – and guided tours of the castle. Altogether, it is a lovely spot, whose history and cultural traditions fascinated the Lehmdens as much as the place itself. Surrounded by rolling hills, thick forests and vineyards, the castle is on the edge of the medieval village of Deutschkreutz, first documented in 1492 and just 5 km from the Hungarian border.
The Schloss in its current form was built in 1625 by Count Paul Nàdàsdy, an early defender of the rights of commoners.
Leading a struggle against oppression in Hungary, he became the victim of a court conspiracy, leading to his decapitation by Leopold I in 1671.
Under the Nàdàsdy family, Deutschkreutz was an important crossroads between Austria and Hungary and became an important cultural center, with a publishing house for some leading Croatian books of the time. With time, the town lost its cultural importance and the Schloss was bought by a Count Paul Esterhàzy in 1681 who rarely visited using it rather for the operation of their farming estates. They preferred their more elaborate castles, principally the one in Eisenstadt nearer Vienna, for their own use. Since 1971, the Schloss has been protected as a heritage site by the Haage Convention.
The castle has four wings with two floors around a rectangle-shaped courtyard and four low corner towers. In the upper wing the castle has an 80-square-meter gallery where Lehmden regularly exhibits his work.
Fantastic Realism in a 17th-century castle might be jarring, but the simple lines of this country Schloss – more like a monastery in some ways than a castle, turn out to be a very effective setting for the sometimes startling work. Birds, graves, tunnels, trees, landscapes and mysterious human beings on landscapes transformed in the imagination.
"His holes and tunnels are also windows to the past that make time visible," his daughter said. "For him, painting is changing a neutral ground into a range of perspectives; a mix of things that he has seen and learned."
In almost every corner of the gallery there appears to be a touch of art. The wooden ceilings are caressed by Lehmden’s black birds and woodland, painted trees with real branches reaching out from the wall.
Since 2004 every June Deutschkreutz has hosted a "Literature on the Green" festival, an event joined by some of Austria’s most important writers. There are also musical and cultural events, including the classical guitar duo Pepe and Celin Romero, an evening of flamenco dancing, ‘Flamenco Under the Moon’, and medieval and renaissance music by the Italian ensemble Corte Antica.
With hand-woven carpets from North Africa hanging throughout the inner courtyard, Lehmden hosted an open-air Moroccan night in mid July, a vivid example of cultural exchange between a 17th-century European castle and Moroccan Culture.
The Schloss chapel is also available for rent throughout the year with a musicians’ gallery in the center that could provide two people with the most romantic wedding ceremony in the Burgenland.