“…And somewhere in the heart of this world, stands a woman whose portrait both sides are fighting for, Adele Block Bauer. During my visits to this country, I’ve discerned that there are two Austrias, one that opposes restitution to the victims of Nazism, but also another that recognizes the injustices committed against Austria’s Jewish population and against all odds seeks to rectify it…A string of events and misdeeds point to the incontestable fact that the paintings in question reached the Belvedere and remain there for over half a century in a manner that was both dishonest and illegal…So in its own way, ladies and gentlemen, this is a moment in history, a moment in which the past is asking something of the present. Many years ago, just outside these walls, terrible things happened, people dehumanized other people, persecuted them, sent many of them to their deaths, decimating entire families. And they stole from them, properties, livelihoods, objects most precious to them. And amongst those people were the Block Bauers, a family of a very dear friend of mine.
So now I’m asking you, as Austrians, as human beings, to recognize that wrong, not just for Maria Altmann, but for Austria.”
Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer I. 1907, oil and gold leaf on canvas. Neue Art Gallery, New York, New York, United States.
Great painting with a great story:
This painting, which took three years to complete, was commissioned by the wealthy industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, who made his money in the sugar industry. Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer favored the arts, especially Klimt, and commissioned him to complete another portrait of his wife Adele in 1912. Adele Bloch-Bauer was the only person to be painted twice by Klimt. This painting is perhaps most famous not for its artistic quality, but because of its scandalous history since inception. Upon her death, Adele Bloch-Bauer wished the painting to be given to the Austrian State Gallery, but it was seized by advancing German forces in World War II. In 1945, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer designated the paintings to be the property of his nephew and nieces, including Maria Altmann. Nonetheless, the Austrian government retained ownership of the painting, and was not returned to the Altmann family until 2006 after a long court battle. The painting was then sold at auction for $135 million dollars, which at that time was the highest price paid at auction for a painting. It is now displayed the Neue Art Gallery in New York.