The History Behind ‘The Woman in Gold’
Easily one of my favourite paintings, by one of my most favourite artists, Klimt’s painting ‘Adele Bloch-Bauer’s Portrait’ is well-known for many reasons. Clearly seen it was created in Klimt’s “golden phase,” this painting is so striking not just for it’s beauty, but also its long and tragic history.
Adele Bloch-Bauer and her husband, Ferdinand Bloch, were close friends with the artist, Gustav Klimt. She modeled for Klimt on numerous occasions, and Ferdinand commissioned two portraits of his wife. The married couple were well-known lovers of art. Adele would entertain many artists at their home - from musicians to painters. The Bloch-Bauer’s were a prominent Jewish family in Viennese society. This is precisely why they were targeted by Nazis in the 1940’s. The Bloch-Bauer’s home was emptied of its beautiful and loved possessions - including Adele Bloch-Bauer’s portrait. Of course, no Nazi could have the portrait of a Jewish woman hanging in their home, so her name was erased from the painting’s history and instead given the title “Woman in Gold.”
Eventually the painting was collected by the Austrian state gallery, and became one of Austria’s artistic ‘Golden Age’ symbols. Her story does not end here, because years later, in 2000, Adele’s niece - Maria Viktoria Bloch-Bauer (Maria Altman) - sued Austria for the ownership of the painting. Maria remembered visiting her aunt’s and uncle’s home throughout her childhood. After Adele died, their visits included a viewing of the gorgeous golden portrait. While Maria later fled Austria and settled in America with her husband, she eventually returned decades later after being told that the painting was rightfully hers. In Adele’s will she had asked that her husband donate her paintings to the gallery, yet in her husband’s will he had left them to his family. After years and years of court hearings and trials, Maria finally won back the painting.
Adele Bloch-Bauer’s portrait now sits in a Manhattan gallery, after being purchased for $135 million (US). This portrait was just one of many that was looted during World War II. Thankfully, the history of the painting, the subject, and her family have the recognition they deserve. It’s tragic that so many pieces of art and family heirlooms are still lost because of the prejudices and crimes of those that abused their power. Those organizations not only wiped out families, but also sought to destroy any memory of them.
Movies and interviews have been made to show people the history of this famous painting, such as ‘Stealing Klimt’ (2007), and the film ‘Woman in Gold’ (2015) which I both highly recommend.
Above: Adele Bloch-Bauer’s Portrait (Woman in Gold, Adele Bloch-Bauer I.), 1907, by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)