The Woman in Gold by Gustav Klimt has excited the imaginations of millions of people. I am captivated by art with a strong narrative, and the story of justice behind this painting is inspiring. On a recent trip to Manhattan, I visited the Woman in the Neue Galerie on the Upper East Side. It has enthralled me for years. Its beauty captures the eye of any designer or art lover, but it also enthralls me for its place in history and the art world.
The layers and depths of gold, and the look in Adele’s eyes, are instantly mesmerizing. As I stood before the painting, I reflected on its journey.
Adele and Gustav
Klimt had titled it Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I when he painted it in 1907. Adele was the wife of a banker, and it had been her husband who’d commissioned the piece. Adele had been a prominent society maven whose parties had brought together the writers, politicians, and influencers of Vienna. She’d sat for a handful of Klimt’s paintings over the course of nearly a decade, including the famous Judith (below). The art world is divided on whether Adele and Klimt had a long-standing affair. (Hmmm…)
Becoming The Woman in Gold
When the Nazis seized the Bloch-Bauer estate, they changed the painting’s name from Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I to Woman in Gold, because of a Nazi practice to make artwork less ethnic. They immediately displayed it in Vienna’s Galerie Belvedere, where it was admired for decades. In the late 1990s, an investigative journalist proved that the Galerie had several art pieces that had been stolen from Jewish owners… And importantly, that the Galerie had denied theft and had refused to return the works to their original owners. After a lengthy court process in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was returned to the family. They immediately sold it to Ronald Lauder, son of Estee Lauder, who put it in the Neue Galerie, which he had founded to house German and Austrian art.
I love this piece for its stunning beauty and historical value, and as the symbol of a story in which justice prevails.