Completed between 1903 and 1907, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (also known as The Lady in Gold or Woman in Gold) is one of Gustav Klimt’s true masterpieces.
Commissioned by Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, Klimt painted the portrait to honor the Jewish banker and sugar producer’s wife. The Bloch-Bauer family were firm supporters and patrons of the artist, owning several Gustav Klimt paintings.
Amongst Gustav Klimt artworks, the painting represents the culmination of the artist’s “Golden Phase”. He drew more than hundred preparatory sketches for the portrait, taking inspiration from Byzantine mosaics and religious iconography. Klimt created the work itself with an elaborate process of layering gold and silver leaf. His characteristic ornamental motifs were later added in relief.
Despite the lengthy preparations, when first exhibited at the Mannheim International Art Show in 1907, critics reacted with barely veiled contempt. “Bizarre”, “grotesque” and “vulgar” were just some of the words describing the piece.
Critics primarily disapproved of the sitter’s loss of individuality amidst the sea of gold. One commentator (Eduard Pötzl) even complained it was “more brass than Bloch”.
Bloch-Bauer died in 1925 and stipulated her portraits should be donated to the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna. Even though technically owned by her husband, he agreed in principle.
Like many other Gustav Klimt famous paintings, the portrait doesn’t have a straightforward history, however. Stolen in 1941 by the Nazis, it became a possession of the German state. Ferdinand himself successfully fled Vienna, making his way to Switzerland.
A charge of tax evasion later arose against Ferdinand, with the sale of his artworks used to offset the claim. In a strange twist of fate, the German lawyers re-donated the portrait to the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. This was due to Adele’s written stipulations in her will.
On his death in 1945, Ferdinand bequeathed his entire estate to his nephews and nieces. They subsequently launched legal challenges against the gallery, attempting to reclaim artworks stolen during the Second World War. After a lengthy, seven-year legal battle, the gallery returned the paintings (including several Gustav Klimt artworks).
The family sold the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer in 2006. Purchased for $135 million by the legendary art collector Ronald Lauder, it then traveled to America. The portrait now hangs in the Neue Galerie (a museum of early twentieth-century German and Austrian art) in New York City.
Gustav Klimt was one of the founding members (and President) of the Vienna Secession, founded in 1897. The Secessionist Movement represented artists hoping to break free from the classical conservatism and stifling rules of the Viennese Künstlerhaus. Together, the artists resigned en-masse from the Association of Austrian Artists.
As a pioneering (and at times, scandalizing) avant-garde artist, Gustav Klimt particularly railed against the “hypocritical boundaries” prevalent in Viennese Society. He aimed to elevate applied arts to traditional fine art status. Many Klimt artworks consequently embraced the latest art nouveau styles mixed with his characteristic geometric minimalism.
It was partly due to this reputation as a painter of decadence, opulence and beauty that Klimt became the portrait painter de jour for wealthy bourgeois families. In the early 1900s, rising industrialism created a new class of wealthy business owners open to innovative artistic approaches.
The Portrait of Adele-Bloch Bauer is a perfect representation of the confluence of these historic factors, as well as one of the most beautiful portraits of all time.
Klimt was not born into a wealthy family and aged 14 he attended The Vienna School of Arts and Crafts having won a Scholarship. Klimt led a somewhat bohemian existence and never married although it is said he fathered some 14 children and slept with every woman whose portrait he painted.
Klimt’s ornate and intricately decorated Golden Period paintings employ both silver and gold leaf.
Gustav Klimt The Kiss reproduction is by far his most popular painting. The Kiss expresses love and intimacy with a couple in a tender embrace on a foreground of multi-colored flowers and is considered one of the most famous romantic paintings.
The Kiss 1907 was created by Klimt during a low period in his career when he was full of self-doubt.
However, before The Kiss was completed it was sold to the Belvedere Museum Austria. In today’s terms, The Museum paid around $250,000 which vastly exceeds any amount paid for any work of art in Austria at that time. The Kiss 1907 is considered a national treasure by the Austrians and it attracts hundreds of thousands visitors a year to the Museum. The original painting is an impressively large square oil painting being 180cm x 180cm.
Although the female in the painting The Kiss has never been formally confirmed, she is believed to be Emily Floge, who was Klimt’s sister-in-law and also his lover. Klimt painted a Portrait of Emily Floge in 1902
Art Nouveau Art Movement artist Gustav Klimt was a leading member of the Vienna Secession Movement. Many Gustav Klimt oil paintings were purchased by famous Jewish patrons of the arts prior to the Second World War but were later confiscated by the Nazis.
After extensive litigation in New York, Gustav Klimt’s painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer 1907, was just one of five paintings which the relatives of Adele Bloch Bauer managed to have returned to them from the State of Austria. Whilst many of the paintings were sold at auction, Portrait of Adele Bloche-Bauer was sold to the Ronald Lauder Collection, the son of cosmetics company founder Estee Lauder, for $135 million in 2006.
The Stoclet Frieze comprises three panels and makes a major contribution to Art Nouveau and the Secessionist Movement. The Tree of Life sits in the center, whilst to the left is Expectation and to the right Fulfillment. The small geometric form of Stoclet Frieze Patterns sits in the same location of the dining room at Stoclet Palace which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2009.
Klimt’s brother Ernest married Helene Floge, the sister of Emily Floge and many of Klimt’s landscape paintings were completed whilst he was staying at Schloss Kammer on Lake Attersee in Austria, the home of the Floge family. Schloss Kammer on the Attersee IV 1910 is held in a Private Collection. Litzlberg am Attersee c1915 was sold in 2011 for just over $40m. On Lake Attersee 1900 is part of the Leopold Museum Collection and is a popular Gustav Klimt reproduction.
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