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.