The Lady in Gold
The story begins “never had a little old Jewish lady in Los Angeles called Austria so much trouble.” Telling the tale of Maria Altmann’s quest to have Gustav Klimt’s paintings of her aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer returned from Austria, Anne Marie O’Connor’s The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer is an enthralling and enlightening read (thanks to my mom & grandma for the recommendation). O’Connor begins with Klimt and the Jewish bourgeoisie at the turn of the century. Stefan Zweig wrote “whoever wished to put through something in Vienna” or “sought appreciation as well as an audience was dependent on the Jewish bourgeoisie.” She details the response to Klimt’s paintings – a “rare acknowledgement of female sexual desire.” Parallel to understanding the world of Klimt and Adele (and their hinted-at relationship), O’Connor describes Hitler’s relationship with the art world. Not only is the book an examination of Maria’s quest for the paintings of Adele, but of the Nazi looting of art and of post-war Austria’s refusal to acknowledge many origins of their masterpieces. “The Austrian Gallery had amassed an excellent Klimt collection during the war, and they did not intend to give it back.” O’Connor is clearly sympathetic to Maria’s case, but nonetheless presents a fully fleshed-out story. Adele is “frozen in Vienna’s golden moment” but represents the dual question of what defines cultural property (“when patrimony is the arm of genocide”) and what is the value of artwork that evokes the “theft of six million lives?” Definitely worth a read – especially after seeing Klimt’s work displayed at the Belvedere.