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The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (2012)

by Anne-Marie O'Connor

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5672241,494 (3.76)36
Art. History. Nonfiction. HTML: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 si√®cle Vienna (she wanted to be educated, a notion considered ‚??degenerate‚?Ě in a society that believed women being out in the world went against their feminine ‚??nature‚?Ě). 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 su
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» See also 36 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
The first section was good, I learned a lot and it was a fun read. But I wasn't really in the mood for the Holocaust stuff, and certainly not dozens of pages block-quoting fake-cheerful letters between spouses on either side of the barbed wire. Found myself spending more time googling photos of the people and paintings than reading the book itself, and that's a sure sign that it's time to move on.
  blueskygreentrees | Jul 30, 2023 |
Three-part story of the family that commissioned Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a painting by Gustav Klimt, completed in 1907. Part I gives the background of how and why the painting was created. It presents biographical material on both Gustav Klimt and Adele Bloch-Bauer, as well as relevant history of Viennese society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Part II focuses on Nazi looting of art and other property from Jewish families, including the Bloch-Bauers, during WWII. It follows the stories of various family members, and how they escaped (or did not). Part III tells about the legal fight by the heirs to recover their paintings from the Austrian government many decades after the war.

O’Connor writes in a journalistic style. She includes a depth of detail about art history, the secessionist movement, and the art scene in Vienna prior to WWII. She also contributes to the canon of the Holocaust narrative by recounting the horrific tragedies and heroic rescues with respect to the extended family of the Bloch-Bauers. The book is well-researched and includes a massive amount of information, some of which is only tangentially related to the main premise. It covers an extensive time period and there are many names to recall. It probably could benefit from the inclusion of a family tree to assist readers in remembering all the players.

Overall, I found it a compelling story, combining art history, the Holocaust, and legal disputes. It is a niche read, appealing those that enjoy both art and history.
( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
I loved this book. I had seen the movie, but the book goes into so much more detail and brings the entire story to life.

If you're interested in history, art, or Viennese culture, you'll like this book. If you're living in Vienna, I highly recommend it. ( )
  MahuaCavanagh | Sep 21, 2022 |
The title of the book is a bit misleading, as the first 2/3 really tells more of the story of the Bloch-Bauer family and how their world was destroyed when the Nazi's entered Austria.

Adele Bloch-Bauer was a socialite of the highest order in the Vienna of the late 19th and early 20th century. She was also a woman who craved education and intelligent conversation. She became acquainted with Gustav Klimt at the time when he revolted against the "expectations" of art and became a founding member of The Succession Movement of Art.

As I mentioned the early parts of the book take you through the war years and the German/Austrian theft of millions of dollars of Art. The book follows the painting through the years up to and including The landmark Supreme court decision that basically held Austria accountable to the families who lost so much.

This book is not for everyone, thus a 5 star rating wasn't in the mix. However, I enjoyed the history of the painting and learning a few things about the Jewish culture of Austria before the war.

( )
  JBroda | Sep 24, 2021 |
The basis for Helen Mirren vehicle Woman in Gold, this book recounts the story of Gustav Klimt’s renowned portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, stolen by the Nazis who obscured Adele’s Jewish identity. Decades later, Adele’s niece Maria filed a lawsuit to get that and other paintings returned to the family.

It is an important story that to me lost some of its energy in the telling. The story of pre-war Austria, with its intellectual and artistic energy and an influential, highly assimilated Jewish community was usually compelling, but it seemed as if the narrative jumped around just a bit to too much. I told a friend that it seemed ‚Äúfractured,‚ÄĚ and maybe that was an artistic choice, or maybe it‚Äôs just my mind that‚Äôs fractured. ( )
  CasualFriday | Jun 16, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
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To William Booth, Mary Patricia O'Connor, and Carolyn Koppe
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[Prologue] The Belvedere Place of war hero Prince Eugene seemed the setting of a fairy tale on the winter morning in 2006 when a young Los Angeles attorney, wearing a long black coat and an habitual air of impatience, trudged through its snowy gardens to lay claim to a painting he had spent years fighting for.
It was 1898, and the devil himself seemed to dance in Vienna.
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Art. History. Nonfiction. HTML: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 si√®cle Vienna (she wanted to be educated, a notion considered ‚??degenerate‚?Ě in a society that believed women being out in the world went against their feminine ‚??nature‚?Ě). 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 su

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Stolen by Nazis
Incandescent, glowing gold
Adele, holding court
(sushitori)

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