Art. History. Nonfiction. HTML:The spellbinding story, part fairy tale, part suspense, of Gustav Klimt‚??s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, one of the most emblematic portraits of its time; of the beautiful, seductive Viennese Jewish salon hostess who sat for it; the notorious artist who painted it; the now vanished turn-of-the-century Vienna that shaped it; and the strange twisted fate that befell it. The Lady in Gold, considered an unforgettable masterpiece, one of the twentieth century‚??s most recognizable paintings, made headlines all over the world when Ronald Lauder bought it for $135 million a century after Klimt, the most famous Austrian painter of his time, completed the society portrait. Anne-Marie O‚??Connor, writer for The Washington Post, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, tells the galvanizing story of the Lady in Gold, Adele Bloch-Bauer, a dazzling Viennese Jewish society figure; daughter of the head of one of the largest banks in the Hapsburg Empire, head of the Oriental Railway, whose Orient Express went from Berlin to Constantinople; wife of Ferdinand Bauer, sugar-beet baron. The Bloch-Bauers were art patrons, and Adele herself was considered a rebel of fin de si√®cle Vienna (she wanted to be educated, a notion considered ‚??degenerate‚?Ě in a society that believed women being out in the world went against their feminine ‚??nature‚?Ě). The author describes how Adele inspired the portrait and how Klimt made more than a hundred sketches of her‚??simple pencil drawings on thin manila paper. And O‚??Connor writes of Klimt himself, son of a failed gold engraver, shunned by arts bureaucrats, called an artistic heretic in his time, a genius in ours. She writes of the Nazis confiscating the portrait of Adele from the Bloch-Bauers‚?? grand palais; of the Austrian government putting the painting on display, stripping Adele‚??s Jewish surname from it so that no clues to her identity (nor any hint of her Jewish origins) would be revealed. Nazi officials called the painting, The Lady in Gold and proudly exhibited it in Vienna‚??s Baroque Belvedere Palace, consecrated in the 1930s as a Nazi institution. The author writes of the painting, inspired by the Byzantine mosaics Klimt had studied in Italy, with their exotic symbols and swirls, the subject an idol in a golden shrine. We see how, sixty years after it was stolen by the Nazis, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer became the subject of a decade-long litigation between the Austrian government and the Bloch-Bauer heirs, how and why the U.S. Supreme Court became involved in the case, and how the Court‚??s decision had profound ramifications in the art world. A riveting social history; an illuminating and haunting look at turn-of-the-century Vienna; a brilliant portrait of the evolution of a painter; a masterfully told tale of suspense. And at the heart of it, the Lady in Gold‚??the shimmering painting, and its equally irresistible su
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Klimt's anniversary is celebrated with ten different exhibitions in Austria, which shows both that Vienna's museums are unwilling to cooperate and coordinate among themselves and that Klimt's work is overrepresented in Austria and underrepresented abroad. During the last years, Klimt has been in the news mostly because of the struggle for the restitution of the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, duly reported by the author of this book for the Los Angeles Times. Unfortunately her account is very partisan. "Audiatur et altera pars" is not something she seems to be aware of. She also fails to evaluate the information collected. The author further has an unfortunate tendency to conflate a person's English language skills with that person's intelligence and friendliness, e.g. I would hesitate to interpret the graveyard gardener's responses as hostile. Gardeners are not selected for their language skills. Answering questions in English might just have frightened them. They might not even have been Austrian.
The book is also filled with numerous howlers that a quick look up at Wikipedia could have prevented easily. No, Marc Aurel did not hold back the Huns who arrived two hundred years later. No, Hitler was not Vienna's native son. No, Czechoslovakia did not exist then and no longer exists now. European history certainly was neither Mrs. O'Connor's forte nor her editor's. She certainly fits into the truthiness mold of her present employer, the Pravda on the Potomac. Why check a statement if it sounds true?
The narrative of the end of her book and its beginning are also not compatible: She starts with a classic, idealistic tale of justice, of handing the portrait back to its just owners. Her story ends with a greedy lawyer cashing in forty percent of the auction money extracted and four of the five paintings (which had been on public display in a public museum) disappearing in unknown private collections. In the light of this outcome, a rewrite of the first two thirds of the book would have been in order.
In an ethical decision analysis, one would have to take into account the declaration of the lady in the portrait to have it displayed in a public museum. One would further have to consider the suffering and expropriation caused to the Bloch-Bauer family. The lawyer's efforts also deserve adequate compensation. Finally, one should also acknowledge that today's Austrians are not guilty for their grandparents' actions. Thus, a compromise of displaying the portraits in a US museum should have been an acceptable solution for all, which would have also increased Klimt's visibility abroad.
Enter the lawyers. On the Austrian side, the lawyers held firm to the idea that Adele Bloch-Bauer had declared to have the painting displayed in the Belvedere museum. They failed to take into consideration that the Cold War had ended and the old generation of US politicians who were aware of their own complicity in not restoring the looted properties and not cleaning up institutions (exhibit A: former Austrian Nazi and UN secretary general Kurt Waldheim) were no longer in charge. On the American side, the lawyer representing the heirs was looking out more to his own than his clients' interests. Which went so far that he started suing his client (a Holocaust survivor) to extract his pound of flesh in the form of a full forty percent of the proceeds - which crashed a superior US museum solution at 150 million US dollars. Heir and collector Ronald Lauder added his political connections to extract and auction off the paintings to the highest bidders. At least, the portrait of Adele Bauer-Bloch is now on public display as the signature piece at Lauder's Neue Galerie in New York.
To accomplish this, the laws had to be stretched. To disregard Adele Bauer-Bloch's declaration, one had to resort to the anti-feminist solution that she never was the real owner of the painting. It was her husband who owned it all the time. A rather ugly political power play that at least compensated the heirs of Bloch-Bauer for some of their wartime losses, although the lion's share went to an extremely greedy lawyer. Hopefully, the Klimts now in the private collections will one day appear in public again. Authorities in Austria have in the mean time learned from the case. Recent restitutions have been performed much more amicably and with superior outcomes for all. As a recent report has indicated, there is still a lot of work to be done (especially concerning works from less valuable artists).
A true synthesis of the case of Adele Bauer-Bloch is still to be written. The first part about the creation of the portrait suffers from a lack of research and depth. The last part suffers from bias. The valuable part of this book is the middle one which drastically tells the story of the emergence of Nazism in Austria and the mistreatment and expropriation of the Bauer-Blochs and their relatives (some of which were Nazis themselves!). The trials of survival and escape of their war years are movingly told.
Also, a glossary of names would have been helpful.
from Austria: a portrait of one of its family member, long dead, Adele. Adele was painted by Austria's most famous painter Klimt and
Still, for lovers of art and art history, it is a good read.
This is a story of a portrait of a beautiful Viennese Jewish salon hostess, the now-vanished turn-of-the-century Vienna cultural scene of which it became an emblem, the atrocities of the Nazi regime,
My husband and I have reproductions of two Klimt paintings in our home ‚Äď The Kiss (perhaps his most famous work) and Water Serpents I, so I was immediately interested in the book. I really appreciated that O‚ÄôConnor took the reader back to the late 19th century and early 20th century to paint the landscape of the era ‚Äď the parties, the intrigue, the art scene, the romantic scandals, the loving families and not-so-loving marriages. I was completely drawn into this era and felt the loss of it when the narrative moved on to the war years and how the family members endured and/or escaped.
I thought it lost a little momentum when the time frame advanced to modern day and the early efforts of Maria Altmann (Adele‚Äôs niece) to recover the paintings which had been stolen from her family. For some of the chapters in the last section of the book O‚ÄôConnor switched to a first-person narrative, told from Maria‚Äôs point of view, and that seemed to interrupt the flow. Still, I was captivated from beginning to end.
by Anne-Marie O'Connor
The story of Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer (the Jewish Viennese society figure) and the history of
9 audio discs
I thought I would find an interesting turn of the century tale
Instead, it was a compelling social history beginning at the turn of the century Vienna.
It was an exploration of the culture, introducing the reader to the anti-Semitism that permeated the era.
Exploration of the historical and political climate are essential to understanding the trail of Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.
It began as a "glamorous era, peopled by Sigmund Freud, Marlene Dietrich, Hedy Lamar, and Billy Wilder.... An era that had ended with the arrival of Hitler."
We follow the massive theft of art in Europe by the German (Nazi) Government during World War II.
This particular portrait was stolen by the Nazis during World War II and renamed The Lady in Gold (to avoid any hint that its subject was Jewish)
They proudly exhibited it in Vienna's Baroque Belvedere Palace, consecrated in the 1930s as a Nazi institution.
The Lady In Gold was finally returned to Bloch-Bauer's heirs in the 21st century.
The years leading to the 21st century are intense, multifaceted and illuminating to the reader.
I finished the nonfiction feeling somewhat haunted and definitely pleased I had chosen to investigate this particular pocket of history..
....a vivid narrative...historically rich in detail...
Gustav Klimt was an artist with an eye for beauty and the skill to capture a unique impression of it on canvas. He lived in Vienna, Austria from the late 1800s until his death in 1918. Some of his work was regarded as pornographic, yet (or, perhaps, thus) he attracted many lady admirers, among them wealthy art lovers. One of them, Adele Bloch-Bauer, was the subject of the pivotal Klimt painting in this tale. When completed in 1907, it was hung in the Bloch-Bauer mansion. Adele died in 1925, leaving an expression of her wish that her husband, Ferdinand, would donate the portrait and five other Klimt paintings, which he owned, to the Austrian State Gallery upon his death.
Anschluss derailed the Bloch-Bauers and every other Jewish family in Vienna; almost overnight, they had everything taken from them—cars, homes, country estates, jewelry and artworks, businesses, their houses of worship, their standing and respect in the community. SS men spirited away all the artworks. The railroad took over the house, converting it into office space. Adele's niece, Maria, had just returned from her honeymoon with Fritz Altmann, her husband of ten days, who was arrested. Fritz's elder brother Bernhard, Europe's largest knitwear manufacturer, was maneuvering to keep company stock out of German hands; dangling his assets before the Nazis, he negotiated Fritz's release and helped Fritz and Maria escape to Britain. Other family members confronted worse ordeals.
When the war ended, survivors tried to get their property back, but the Austrian government was loathe to part with it. Ultimately, Maria survived when few other family members did and she became principal heir to Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer's estate. Represented by Randol Schoenberg, grandson of exiled Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, Maria pressed her case. Seemingly thwarted by Austrian stalling, Schoenberg took the case to U.S. courts, where the case was decided—by the U. S. Supreme Court—in the heirs' favor. You have to read it to believe it.
It is an important story that to me lost some of its energy in the telling. The story of pre-war Austria, with its intellectual and artistic energy and an influential, highly assimilated Jewish community was usually compelling, but it seemed as if the narrative jumped around just a bit to too much. I told a friend that it seemed ‚Äúfractured,‚ÄĚ and maybe that was an artistic choice, or maybe it‚Äôs just my mind that‚Äôs fractured.
O‚ÄôConnor writes in a journalistic style. She includes a depth of detail about art history, the secessionist movement, and the art scene in Vienna prior to WWII. She also contributes to the canon of the Holocaust narrative by recounting the horrific tragedies and heroic rescues with respect to the extended family of the Bloch-Bauers. The book is well-researched and includes a massive amount of information, some of which is only tangentially related to the main premise. It covers an extensive time period and there are many names to recall. It probably could benefit from the inclusion of a family tree to assist readers in remembering all the players.
Overall, I found it a compelling story, combining art history, the Holocaust, and legal disputes. It is a niche read, appealing those that enjoy both art and history.