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The Lady in Gold
Cover of The Lady in Gold
The Lady in Gold
The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Bloch-Bauer
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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 siècle Vienna (she wanted to be educated, a notion considered "degenerate" in a society that believed women being out in the world went against their feminine "nature"). 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 subject, the fate of each forever intertwined.

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 siècle Vienna (she wanted to be educated, a notion considered "degenerate" in a society that believed women being out in the world went against their feminine "nature"). 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 subject, the fate of each forever intertwined.

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  • From the book

    Excerpted from the Hardcover editionAdele's Vienna
    Poems and Privilege


    It was 1898, and the devil himself seemed to dance in Vienna.

    The mistress of Emperor Franz Joseph was Vienna's premier actress, Katharina Schratt, and she was threatening to retire from the stage unless the Imperial Burgtheater staged a scandalous Arthur Schnitzler play that glamorized free love. Vienna's most acclaimed star couldn't possibly be allowed to step down in the Jubilee Year, the fiftieth anniversary of the reign of the Austro-Hungarian monarch. So when the curtains opened on Schnitzler's Veil of Beatrice, the emperor personally saw to it that his mistress was onstage in a black veil, in the role of the seduced woman.

    If it had once been unthinkable for the Austrian emperor to publicly indulge the whims of a common actress, Vienna was now a hothouse where nothing seemed impossible.

    For hundreds of years, the great Habsburg dynasty had reigned over this crossroad of East and West. Behind immense battlements, its frilly court united German, Italian, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, and Croatian aristocracies into a single royal house whose multicultural capital was as ornate as a Fabergé egg. Even their German acquired elaborate embellishments and a lilting cadence, softened by Italian and French, and Baroque exhortations to kuss die hand. This culture of pleasure was so unabashed that one Habsburg archduke declared wine "the principal nourishment of the city of Vienna."

    Now Vienna's ancient ramparts had come tumbling down, and a new wave of newcomers was crowding in from Bohemia, Moravia, Galicia, and Transylvania. You could hear a dozen languages in a single street-or a single tavern.

    This new Vienna was a city of contradictions. It was one of Europe's richest cities, yet its immigrants were among the poorest. The construction of opulent new palaces did little to hide a severe housing shortage. Vienna doctors were creating modern medicine-pioneering surgeries; discovering germs, the polio virus, and blood types-yet incurable syphilis spread unchecked. Sigmund Freud was illuminating hidden drives of sex and aggression at a time of xenophobia and anti- Semitism so crude that some believed Jews murdered children to leaven their matzoh with blood. Famed for its gaiety, "the sacred city of musicians" had the highest suicide rate in Europe.

    The hallowed house of Habsburg, which produced the kings of the Holy Roman Empire and boasted such ancestors as Julius Caesar and Nero, seemed to be coming apart. Emperor Franz Joseph was carrying on with an actress. His wife, Empress Elisabeth, detested court life and spent her time traveling the continent, earning a reputation as Europe's most famous liberated woman. His brother, Maximilian, playfully donned a sombrero during an ill-fated adventure as emperor of Mexico that ended with his execution by firing squad. His wife, Charlotte, went mad in a Belgian castle.

    The dynasty that had united Europe and the Americas had become the empire's premier dysfunctional family.

    Arrivistes were upending the social order. Prominent Jewish men like Gustav Mahler-who converted to Catholicism to qualify for an imperial post as director of the Vienna State Opera-were somehow becoming eligible bachelors, chased by wealthy Catholic society girls. The intoxicating waltz was throwing Viennese maidens into the arms of strangers. "African and hot-blooded, crazy with life...restless...passionate," wrote an appalled director of the Burgtheater. "The devil is loose here...in one single night, the Viennese went with him."

    Yet even in this "Gay Apocalypse," Vienna maintained a deeply old- fashioned...

About the Author-
  • Anne-Marie O'Connor attended Vassar College, studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. She was a foreign correspondent for Reuters and a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times for twelve years, and has written extensively on the Klimt painting and the Bloch-Bauer family's efforts to recover its art collection. Her articles have appeared in Esquire, The Nation, and The Christian Science Monitor. She currently writes for The Washington Post from Mexico City, where her husband, William Booth, is Post bureau chief.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 19, 2011
    One of Gustav Klimt’s most celebrated paintings (sold to Ronald Lauder for a record $135 million in 2006 and now in the Neue Galerie in New York City, encapsulates a fascinating, complicated cultural history of fin-de-siècle Vienna, its Jewish intelligentsia, and their near complete destruction by the Nazis. Washington Post journalist O’Connor traces the multifaceted history of Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907) in this intriguing, energetically composed, but overly episodic study of Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, and her niece, Maria Bloch-Bauer who reclaimed five Klimt paintings stolen by the Nazis and was extensively interviewed by O’Connor. According to Maria, Adele was “a modern woman, living in the world of yesterday.” The book’s first and strongest section vividly evokes the intellectually precocious and ambitious Adele’s rich cultural and social milieu in Vienna, and how she became entwined with the charismatic, sexually charged, and irreverent Klimt, who may have been Adele’s lover before and also during her marriage. During WWII, Adele’s portrait was renamed by the Nazis as the Dame in Gold to erase her Jewish identity. O’Connor’s final arguments about the tragic yet redemptive symbolism of Adele’s portrait are poignant and convincing: while it represents the failure of the dream of Jews like Adele to assimilate, through the painting she achieves “her dream of immortality.” 54 photos. Agent: Steve Wasserman, Kneerim and Williams.

  • Kirkus

    December 15, 2011
    The lusciously detailed story of Gustav Klimt's most famous painting, detailing the relationship between the artist, the subject, their heirs and those who coveted the masterpiece. Family letters, which remarkably survived the war, support the biography of Klimt and Bloch-Bauer, and the Nazi regime's precise records contribute to their story as they gathered up all of Europe's art collections. Washington Post writer O'Connor then deals with their heirs' fight with Austria to restore their property. Klimt was born a catholic in 1862 in Vienna, a city in which the Hapsburgs courted highly successful Jews to finance their railroads. Those Jews easily intermarried with the established families of the empire. Even though 10 percent of Vienna was Jewish, only a very few were sufficiently wealthy to be considered part of the "second society" of freshly minted aristocrats and industrialists. The poorer Jews continued as victims especially as Vienna became the birthplace of anti-Semitism as a main political force. Klimt and his brother, Ernst, were sons of a gold engraver who established themselves early in life as painters of frescoes and architectural decorations. Ernst's premature death caused Gustav to turn away from their success and devote himself to art. Klimt and his friends closely followed the trials of the French Impressionists and imitated their rejection of the established art world with their own "Secession," exhibiting their "art of the soul." From the time it was painted, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer caused a sensation, and Klimt and Bloch-Bauer delighted in it. O'Connor's thorough research comes fully into the light in the second part of the book as she traces the "ownership" of this painting and the inestimable number of artworks that were absorbed as Hitler planned his museum in Linz. Finally, the tenacity with which descendants of those robbed by the Nazis is exemplified by the work of Randol Schoenberg, who tirelessly strove to assure the return of the Lady in Gold. Art-history fans will love the deep details of the painting, and history buffs will revel in the facts O'Connor includes as she exposes a deeper picture of World War II.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from March 1, 2012

    This is an extraordinary biography, not merely of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the subject of one of Gustav Klimt's most famous paintings, but also of the work itself and the world of early 20th-century Vienna. The painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) was famous before its record-breaking purchase in 2006 at $135 million by Ronald S. Lauder for his New York-based Neue Galerie. Through her painstaking research, O'Connor (Washington Post) manages to capture the cultural, historical, and political climate that gave birth to this painting. She describes the anti-Semitism that permeated early 20th-century Vienna and the role that Jews played (often as outsiders) in that society. Stolen by the Nazis during World War II and renamed The Lady in Gold (to avoid any hint that its subject was Jewish), the painting was at the center of an eight-year battle by Bloch-Bauer's niece Maria Altmann to regain her family's legacy. VERDICT Although the narrative is somewhat episodic, the history is fascinating. This is an essential title for readers interested in art history, European history, and Judaic studies. Highly recommended.--Herbert E. Shapiro, Lifelong Learning Soc., Florida Atlantic Univ., Boca Raton

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • The Daily KOS "A book everyone can enjoy . . . wonderful in the way it weaves [Klimt's] life in with the history of the times, the history of the art world, and the impending rise of Hitler . . . fantastic in its implication of so very many groups and individuals in the holocaust itself and the stealing of art in particular."
  • The Jewish Journal "Illuminating and rewarding . . . compelling."
  • Maclean's "A 100-year saga involving sex, genocide, betrayal, a landmark legal battle and millions of dollars . . . harrowing . . . [a] scathing indictment . . . O'Connor gives each of her subjects a dignified historical airing."
  • City Book Review "The lives lost and the stories that flow from this one painting will haunt, sadden, anger, and stick with you indefinitely."
  • The Vienna Review of Books "An engrossing history . . . entering into the relationship of artist and model. . . . [A] breathless telling."
  • Bookforum "Skillfully filters Austria's troubled twentieth century through the life of Klimt's most beloved muse . . . The book's strength lies in the depth of its details . . . offering readers a nuanced view of a painting whose story transcends its own time."
  • The Dispatch "[A] fascinating story of lust, beauty, greed, loss, prejudice, atrocity, and justice is told here with a wealth of glittering detail."
  • Christian Science Monitor "Every stolen painting has a story. The tale behind this one is epic."
  • Dallas Morning News "A fascinating book."
  • Women's Wear Daily "[An] evocation of a beautiful, vanished world."
  • Jonathan Lopez, Associated Press "Fascinating tale of beauty, terror, loss and remembrance reveals a deeper truth beneath the golden surface."
  • The Wall Street Journal "O'Connor has told an important story."
  • Kirkus "Lusciously detailed."
  • Publisher's Weekly "Encapsulates a fascinating, complicated cultural history of fin-de-siècle Vienna, its Jewish intelligentsia, and their near complete destruction by the Nazis....vividly evokes... how she became entwined with the charismatic, sexually charged, and irreverent Klimt...poignant and convincing..."
  • Frederic Morton "Ignites many a startling flashpoint in the moral history of our time--a taut, rich, tangy and instructive read."
  • The Los Angeles Times "Gripping in details and drama."
  • Donna Seaman "Intricately webbed and shocking tale of this iconic work."
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The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Bloch-Bauer
Anne-Marie O'Connor
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