I wanted to share a post about the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (#1) from Klimt. The history behind it is fascinating.
The painting: Adele Bloch-Bauer I
The painting is composed of oil paint, silver and gold leaf on canvas. The portrait shows Adele Bloch-Bauer sitting on a golden throne or chair, in front of a golden starry background. Around her neck, she holds a jewelled choker that Kilmt included in another painting “Judith”.
The background and gown contain symbols including triangles, eggs, shapes of eyes and almonds. Also present are decorative motifs with influences of the art of the Byzantine, Egypt, Mycenae and Greece, describing that “the gold is like that in Byzantine mosaics.
The portrait was completed between 1903 and 1907. It is named Adele Bloch-Bauer I as there is another portrait Adele Bloch Bauer II painted in 1912.
He was born in 1862, attended the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts. Klimt worked in Vienna during the Belle Époque. During the 1890s, he was influenced by European avant-garde art. By 1900 he was the preferred portrait painter of the wives of the largely Jewish Viennese bourgeoisie. From 1898, Klimt began to experiment his Byzantine or Golden period, when his works, stylistically influenced by Art Nouveau (Jugenstil).
Only if you have the time, there is a great documentary to watch at the end of this section.
I will try to summarize the whole history in a few paragraphs
Adele Bloch Bauer’s husband, Ferdinand was a rich austrian banker. He commissioned Gustav Klimt to create two portraits of his wife, Adele. The portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was realized in 1908.
In 1923, Adele Bloch-Bauer wrote a will, asking that after the death of his husband to give the Klimt works to the Austrian State Gallery in Vienna. Adele died in 1925 and the portraits were exhibited in a few locations in Europe over the years. In 1937, the golden portrait of Adele was lent for display at the Paris Exposition. And the jewelled chocker was given to Maria Altman on her wedding by Ferdinand. In 1938, following the Austrian invasion from The Nazis (the Anschluss), with the upcoming persecution of the jews, Ferdinand left Austria for Czechoslovakia, Paris and finally Switzerland.
The Nazis used the tax evasion motive to seize all of its estate. Adolf Hitler obtained the Kilmt collection at a reduced price and the Commander-in-Chied of the Luftwaffe, Göring obtained the jewelled chocker for his wife. In 1941, Hitler transferred the paintings to the Belvedere Galerie. The name of the portrait was changed to “Dame in Gold” to remove all reference to its Jewish subject matter.
Ferdinand died in 1945 and left his estate to 3 of his nephews/niece (including Altmann). In 1946, the Austrian state issued an Annulment Act that declared all transactions motivated by Nazi discrimination were void. The Bloch-Bauer family hired a Viennese lawyer, to reclaim stolen artwork. Several works were returned but no Klimt paintings.
In 1998, the Austrian government introduced the Art Restitution Act, which looked again at the question of art stolen by the Nazis. Altmann, then living in the US, hired a lawyer, Schoenberg to file a claim with the restitution committee for the return of six paintings including Adele Bloch-Bauer I. The committee turned down the request, citing Adele’s will. The committee’s decision recommended that other Klimt drawings and other pieces of artwork that had been held by Ferdinand and Adele and were still at the Galerie Belvedere should be returned, as they fell outside the request of the will.
In March 2000 Altmann filed a civil claim against the Austrian government for the return of the paintings. Altmann and Schoenberg sued the Austrian government and the Galerie Belvedere in the US courts. Over four years of litigation followed as to whether the case could be brought against a sovereign state before it was brought before the Supreme Court. In June 2004, the Supreme Court determined that the paintings had been stolen and that Austria was not immune from a claim from Altmann; the court made no comment on the current ownership of the paintings.
To avoid returning to the courts, arbitration in Austria was agreed upon by both parties, although the Austrians had turned down such a move in 1999. Three arbitrators formed the panel and, in January 2006, they delivered their judgement. They stated that five of the six paintings in question should be returned to the Bloch-Bauer estate, as outlined in Ferdinand’s will. The paintings were exported from Austria in March 2006 and exhibited together at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from April to June 2006. Altmann then stated that she would not want any private person to buy these paintings. In June 2006 the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was sold to Ronald Lauder for $135 million and was placed the work in the Neue Galerie, the New York-based gallery he co-founded. The painting has been on display at the location since.