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“Lady in Gold”

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The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer tells the remarkable true story behind Helen Mirren’s new film The Woman in Gold. The book, written by Anne-Marie O’Connor, is not so much about the history of the Klimt’s painting as the dispute revolving the ownership of this painting.

It jumps off points to tell the story of Vienna and the Jewish aristocracy which was so prominent and influential in Viennese culture at the turn of the 20th century. It begins with the plight and fate of these Viennese Jews after World War I and before, during and after World War II and how WWI created a culture ripe for increased antisemitism and the acceptance of promise Hitler made to create a stable, prosperous, united Germany. The bulk of this book is devoted to telling these stories with the Bloch-Bauer family at the center.

Then reader is taken on a journey with the painting and the Bloch-Bauer family through World War I (and the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and World War II (and the end, or the travails, of many of the Jews of Europe, including members of the Bloch-Bauer family and their friends–also the theft by the Nazis of many of the great works of art in private and public hands, including much of Klimt’s work–and Lady in Gold, too). Then reader learns how the family tried to get the painting back from the government of Austria, which claimed it was given to that country’s state art museum rather than “Aryanized” by the Nazis. This legal battle started in the late 90’s and culminated successfully in the early 2000’s.

In Woman in Gold, Helen Mirren plays the part of US citizen Maria Altmann, niece of the muse of Viennese painter Gustav Klimt. Her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, had been the striking model for the artist’s celebrated 1907 painting, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, a work that once hung in her childhood home. Seized by a Nazi collector just before the outbreak of the second world war, the painting was for many years the proud possession of the national Belvedere gallery in Vienna. But in 2006, after Altmann won her long case by demonstrating her right to her dead family’s art collection, the Klimt was sold for £73m, making headlines around the world.

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