Leigh Turner

Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Austria

31st October 2019 Vienna, Austria

The Government Art Collection in Vienna

The Duke of Wellington stares across the room towards a distant Queen Victoria, while Emperor Franz Josef – sash, ‘tache and all – observes impassively. Not the plot of a historical novel, but the paintings in the dining room at the ambassador’s residence in Vienna.

Franz Josef

Works from the Government Art Collection (GAC) are displayed in UK Government buildings in nearly every capital city, making it the most dispersed collection of British art in the world.

The Collection promotes British art and plays a key role in British cultural diplomacy, delivering an expression of Britain’s culture and its values. Nowhere is this more relevant than in Vienna, a city where appreciation of art and culture flows through everyday life; and where our continuing deep, broad and historic relationship with Austria is on display every day of the week.

The GAC recently published a fascinating piece on their website about the works on display at the residence, which include an unfinished portrait of Lady Nugent, a striking installation by Edmund de Waal, modern photos, old etchings and everything in between. I recommend these links.

Why does any of this matter? Thousands of guests attend events at the residence every year. The art enables conversations and says something about who we are – in our case, for example, highlighting the long-standing relation between UK and Austria.

Queen Victoria never travelled to Vienna; but she met Kaiser Franz Josef several times in France.  What they talked about we’ll never know; but it is nice to imagine Franz Josef saying goodbye using his customary phrase “es war sehr schön, es hat mich sehr gefreut” (that was lovely, I really enjoyed it).  Indeed.

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About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.

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