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The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor

The extraordinary tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer
 I write this with lingering pleasurable thoughts about how much I enjoyed the book.  I am an arrogant and egotistical person as those of you who know me are aware.  I usually write here form the perspective of scientist/philosopher and also from my experiences as a political activist since the 60s.  I am also an artist (watercolor).  I have some of my art on my Facebook page.  I sell some of it only to get the thrill of knowing someone wants it hanging in their home or office.  When It comes to Klimt, I am in awe of his genius. Also having born a dirty old man, I love his relationship with the younger artist, Egon Schiele, whose eroticism is on a plane with my favorite erotic writers Bukowski and Nin. I have studied art history and have written and published my own take on how the cubists, and certain writers, Gertrude stein in particular,  were 50 years ahead of science when it comes to my field of study: complexity theory.  This book is a collage of historical tidbits that spans art, politics, social life, and many other topics.  I like it especially for its attempt to present a whole picture rather than reductions.  Read on below and I'll share some of what pleased me most as well as picture of the rise of Hitler I never had before.

This book is my first real in depth look at who Klimt really was.  Until reading it I only knew him through his work.  Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt was born in Baumgarten, near Vienna in Austria-Hungary, the second of seven children—three boys and four girls. All three sons displayed artistic talent early on. Klimt's younger brothers were Ernst Klimt and Georg Klimt. His father, Ernst Klimt the Elder, formerly from Bohemia, was a gold engraver. Ernst married Anna Klimt (née Finster), whose unrealized ambition was to be a musical performer.
Klimt lived in poverty while attending the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule), where he studied architectural painting until 1883. He revered the foremost history painter of the time, Hans Makart. Klimt readily accepted the principles of a conservative training; his early work may be classified as academic. In 1877 his brother Ernst, who, like his father, would become an engraver, also enrolled in the school. The two brothers and their friend Franz Matsch began working together; by 1880 they had received numerous commissions as a team they called the "Company of Artists", and helped their teacher in painting murals in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Klimt began his professional career painting interior murals and ceilings in large public buildings on the Ringstraße including a successful series of "Allegories and Emblems".
In 1888, Klimt received the Golden order of Merit from Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria for his contributions to murals painted in the Burgtheater in Vienna. He also became an honorary member of the University of Munich and the University of Vienna. In 1892 both Klimt's father and brother Ernst died, and he had to assume financial responsibility for his father's and brother's families. The tragedies affected his artistic vision as well, and soon he would veer toward a new personal style.
In the early 1890s, Klimt met Emilie Louise Flöge, who, notwithstanding the artist's relationships with other women, was to be his companion until the end of his life. Whether his relationship with Flöge was sexual or not is debated; during that period Klimt fathered at least 14 children.
Later life and posthumous success
Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which sold for a record $135 million in 2006. Neue Galerie, New York.
In 1911 his painting Death and Life received first prize in the world exhibitions in Rome. In 1915 his mother Anna died. Klimt died three years later in Vienna on February 6, 1918, having suffered a stroke and pneumonia due to the influenza epidemic of that year.
 I will add that
Alma Mahler noted in her diary that when she had longed for Klimt "I did not know that he was syphilitic".
O'Conner's book tells the story of a man whose relationships with women were a legend.  No one will ever really sort out how many women he was a physical lover to but he certainly was well known for a unique kind of attraction to very many women.  
He was buried at the Hietzinger Cemetery in Hietzing, Vienna. Numerous paintings were left unfinished.
Klimt's paintings have brought some of the highest prices recorded for individual works of art. In November 2003, Klimt's Landhaus am Attersee sold for $29,128,000,but that was soon eclipsed by prices paid for other Klimts.
In 2006, the 1907 portrait, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, was purchased for the Neue Galerie New York by Ronald Lauder for a reported US $135 million, surpassing Picasso's 1905 Boy With a Pipe (sold May 5, 2004 for $104 million), as the highest reported price ever paid for a painting. On August 7, 2006, Christie's auction house announced it was handling the sale of the remaining four works by Klimt that were recovered by Maria Altmann and her co-heirs after their long legal battle against Austria (see Republic of Austria v. Altmann). Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II was sold at auction in November 2006 for $88 million, the third-highest priced piece of art at auction at the time. The Apple Tree I (ca. 1912) sold for $33 million, Birch Forest (1903) sold for $40.3 million,[22] and Houses in Unterach on Lake Atter (1916) sold for $31 million. Collectively, the five restituted paintings netted over $327 million. A routine Attersee painting fetched $40.4 million at Sotheby's in November 2011.
The city of Vienna, Austria will have many special exhibitions commemorating Klimt's 150th birthday in 2012. Google commemorated his 150th birthday as well with a Google doodle
 This is a rather sterile picture of Klimt from Wikipedia for brevity.  As I have already  mentioned the book is wonderful in the way it weaves his life in with the history of the times, the history of the art world, and the impending rise of Hitler.

This particular painting is special among things that are already special.    Klimt had a special relationship with Adele, his subject.  Adele's family was entwined in the very special society of the Viennese Jewish community.  The book goes beyond Klimt's death to show a number of interrelated things.  The naivety of the Viennese Jews about Hitler's menace to them and the often tragic consequences.  The  relationship between this community and these artists to Hitler's failure with his own attempts to break into the art world.  His Antisemetism and his treatment of the art in the countries he conquered was directly related to this disappointments, not that they did not have other origins as well.

Finally, the book traces the fate of many paintings, but this one in particular.  The story is fantastic in its implication of so very many groups and individuals in the holocaust itself and the stealing of art in particular.  Finally

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.
 So my friends, you are in for a many flavored treat if you read this wonderful book.

Originally posted to don mikulecky on Thu Sep 27, 2012 at 12:44 PM PDT.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers.

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