As well as our dedication to all things beauty, fashion and fitness, we have a passion for the literary world. We at Life Retreat will therefore be starting a book review section, featuring top guest reviewers, as well as our own reviews of fiction and non-fiction. If you would like us to review a specific book, please see the end of this post. This week, our review is for ‘The Lady In Gold‘
The Lady in Gold is described as “The extraordinary tale of Gustav Klimt’s masterpiece,a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”.
This is the story of how Adele Bloch-Bauer’s niece, Maria Altmann, who was by then in her eighties and living in Los Angeles, fought to recover the Gustav Klimt portrait of her aunt from the Austrian government, who had acquired it via Nazi theft during World War II.
The artwork had fallen into the hands of the Austrian state after the German occupation, and had ended up at the Galerie Belvedere in Vienna. It was known as “Woman in Gold”, rather as “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”, to hide the subject’s Jewishness.
Altmann’s initial pleas to the Austrian government to correct this injustice were ignored, and being the last remaining heir to the family treasure, she proceeded to fight even harder to retrieve what had become her native country’s most prized artistic possession.
She retained the services of lawyer, E. Randol Schoenberg, chosen because he was the grandson of her friend, Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg.
According to the lawyer, the location of the portrait in a federal museum worked in his client’s favour, as opposed to it being in private hands. There are still more than 100,000 stolen works of art from the WWII period that are still unaccounted for.
Austria had claimed that Adele Bloch-Bauer, who died in 1925, had left the portrait to the country in her will, but records clearly reveal that the artwork belonged to her husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, who escaped Austria in 1938 and left his entire estate to his heirs, one of whom was Maria Altmann.
It wasn’t until 2006 after the United States Supreme court passed legislation that allowed Maria Altmann to sue the Austrian government that an agreement was reached.
The portrait, one of five paintings she recovered from Austria, now hangs in the Neue Galerie in New York City. It’s currently part of an exhibition exploring the relationship between Klimt and Adele Bloch-Bauer, which is also explored in the book. Once the exhibition closes, the portrait will remain at the gallery. The other magnificent portrait of the same subject by the same artist hangs in the Museum of Modern Art.
But the Woman in Gold, or the Lady in Gold, or the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, has an iridescent quality that creates a breathtaking impression, hinting at the reverence and admiration Klimt felt for this woman. Its presence in the gallery sparks interest in the story of Adele’s life and how the painting came to be in New York at all, which, according to Altmann’s lawyer, was actually the point of the eight year legal battle.
Author Anne-Marie O’Connor doesn’t miss a beat in the telling of this incredible tale, all at once taking us back to fin-de-siecle Vienna, exposing Nazi war crimes and reminding us of the challenges within the world of contemporary art.
She describes The Lady in Gold as also, “The untold story of Gustav Klimt, and his portrait models: the arts patrons and intellectual women who were co-creators of modernism in Vienna… Some were romantically linked to Klimt. One may have been his daughter. Their lives unfolded in the glamorous Vienna of Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Hedy Lamarr and Billy Wilder, a lost world that ended with the arrival of Hitler.”
I was fortunate to view the portrait recently on a visit to New York and can honestly say it is breathtakingly beautiful. The exhibition surrounding this key piece is illuminating, and to save myself from taking copious notes, I decided that reading the book The Lady in Gold was a good idea.
Of course there was a movie made of this fascinating story, and luckily it’s just been released on circuit here in South Africa. They’ve called it The Woman in Gold, and it stars Helen Mirren. Naturally I’d suggest reading the book first.
SOURCE– Reviewed by Cindy Moritz