Probably the most spectacular of Gustav Klimt’s works of art and one of my personal favourites, is the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, painted in 1907.
This incredibly beautiful painting is as much a tribute to the art of the goldsmith and jeweller as it is to the unequivocal beauty of its sitter. The gold decoration absolutely dominates this portrait. The gold appears to be holding its subject captive within its very fibres, she and the gold almost become one entity. But despite the strong presence of the gold, Adele’s beauty shines through with a minutely detailed and accurate portrait showing the world just how captivating she really is.
Adele Bloch-Bauer I is a stunning icon of female beauty. Her pale, intelligent face is set above a wide jewel encrusted collar, emphasizing her ivory shoulders and slim hands clasped in front of her. These are the only parts of her body depicted naturally. Everything else disappears into the swirling patterns richly embellished in gold paint and gold leaf. This painting is Klimt’s greatest triumph of his “Gold Style” period. Many of his other portraits of women only come close to it with their decorative beauty, but none really compare to the alluring presence of Adele Bloch-Bauer. Except perhaps Judith I which demonstrates a much more sensual and erotic side of Klimt’s style.
Incredibly, Klimt’s iconic portrait was initially dismissed as “rubbish”, by critic Eduard Potzl in his review because of the amount of gold used to create this heavenly piece. The portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is often referred to as the “twentieth century Mona Lisa” and it is a title well deserved.
Unfortunately, this wonderful painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer, continued to attract a lot of attention for almost one hundred years after it was first created, for all the wrong reasons. And, because of its colourful history, it has become one of the most famous, iconic and expensive paintings in the world.
This painting, along with other works by Klimt, (a second portrait from 1912 and three landscapes), became the centre of an international lawsuit bought against the Austrian government and the Belvedere Galerie in Vienna by Adele’s heirs. The Bloch-Bauer’s were an extremely wealthy family of bankers and industrialists who were very much a part of Vienna’s high society. They personally knew Klimt and had especially commissioned him to paint this stunning portrait. Unfortunately, the Bloch-Bauer family were also Jewish and when the Anschluss of 1938 unified Austria to the Nazi German Reich, the family was promptly stripped of its considerable fortune and huge art collections.
The Bloch-Bauer’s owned a vast collection of very valuable paintings, several of which had been created by Klimt, sculptures, various other artworks and a collection of over 400 pieces of incredibly rare and valuable porcelain. They were a family who immersed themselves in the arts and were also accomplished musicians who owned some valuable instruments which were played and loved on a regular basis. Many of the art works were quickly sold to art dealers, so that the Nazis could cash in on them, or the favourite ones, including Klimt’s ended up in museums across Austria.
It would be over sixty years before any attempt was made by the Austrian government to repatriate (return) the many stolen, plundered or extorted works of art to their rightful Jewish owners with the advent of a new Law in 1998. However, the Austrian government and the Belvedere Galerie in Vienna were not willing to hand over these magnificent pieces owned by the Bloch-Bauer’s and an epic legal battle ensued.
The incredible story of Maria Altmann (Adele’s niece) and her sheer determination to reclaim her family’s paintings from the Austrians was immortalised in the film “Woman in Gold” (2015) starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. I would highly recommend this film, as it tells the story beautifully.
To catch a quick glimpse of this brilliant film…. (1 minute)
Click on the DVD Case.
It was not a straightforward process to reclaim the five Klimt paintings, and after many years and many legal battles which began in 2000, they were finally returned to the family and left the Belvedere Galerie on the 6th of February 2006. A few months after the conclusion of the epic legal battle with the Austrian government and the Belvedere, this stunning painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was acquired by cosmetics magnate, Ronald S. Lauder, son of Estee Lauder. It was bought for the eye-watering amount of $135 million US Dollars, making it the most expensive painting ever at the time.
It is now housed at the Neue Galerie in New York, USA. The museum was founded by Lauder, and is dedicated to Austrian and German art. Adele Bloch-Bauer I is on permanent display in New York and remains the most famous example of Nazi art theft, having been the subject of numerous articles, books and films.
Adele Bloch-Bauer I is forever protected from the Austrian government and any appeals the Belvedere Galerie may have launched against losing the painting which was never theirs to own in the first place.
An incredible story for an incredible golden masterpiece.
TITLE : Adele Bloch-Bauer I
PAINTED : 1907
FORMAT : Oil, Gold Leaf and Silver Leaf on Canvas
SIZE : 138 cm x 138 cm
GUSTAV KLIMT WEBSITE : http://www.klimt.com
ORIGINALLY LOCATED AT : Oesterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria (Belvedere Galerie)
NOW LOCATED AT : The Neue Galerie, New York, USA
WEBSITE : www.neuegalerie.org/collection