The Neue Galerie’s unveiling of ‘The Woman in Gold’ charts the mysterious life of artist Gustav Klimt and his beloved muse, Adele Bloch-Bauer.
By Christopher Prince
We’re back in the throng of a golden phase. Made famous by Austrian symbolist painet Gustav Klimt, this year marks not only a new exhibition, Gustav Klimt and Adele Bloch-Bauer: The Woman in Gold at New York’s 5th Avenue Neue Galerie, but also a feature film starring Dame Helen Mirren of the same name.
Born in 1862 on the outskirts of Vienna’s fourteenth district in Baumgarten, Klimt established his career as a painter at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts). After graduation Klimt set up a studio with his brother, Ernst, and fellow painter and sculptor Franz Matsch, forming the Künster-Compagnie – the ‘Company of Artists,’ commissioned to paint large interior murals and ceilings in public buildings in Vienna’s central Ringstraße.
Klimt’s relationship with Adele Bloch-Bauer hit its peak during the painter’s golden phase. Between 1907-1912, Klimt created two portraits of the art patron commissioned by Adele’s husband Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy industrialist of the Viennese sugar industry. Utilising gold leaf and oil influenced by the Jugendstil style, Klimt captured the most fully representative work of his career. During the Nazi occupation of World War II the painting was safeguarded by the Austrian government, and was eventually sold to fine art collector Ronald Lauder in 2006 at a reported US$135 million. Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) now sits central to the collection at New York’s Neue Galerie, and is described by Lauder as his own ‘Mona Lisa’. It’s also now been brought to life at the museum’s new exhibition, set to open on 2nd April.
The intimate exhibition aims to explore the close relationship between Klimt and Adele, showcasing the main Adele Bloch-Bauer painting alongside private sketches, vintage photographs and archival material on show through 7th September. The discussion of Klimt arrives fresh from recent news after it was announced that one of his most famous paintings, The Beethoven Frieze (1902), was refused release back to its original heirs. After being looted by Nazi soldiers, the painting was returned to the family of Jewish industrialist August Lederer after the war; only now has it been subjected to an export ban. This comes in the wake of Austria’s efforts to return property looted during the Third Reich. Over the course of 25 years, 50,000 objects, inclusive of major works, have been returned.
Helen Mirren’s portrayal as Adele Bloch-Bauer’s niece, Maria Altmann, in the upcoming movie The Woman in Gold coincides with recent unearthings from Klimt’s past. Based on true events, the story sheds light on how Altmann, in collaboration with her lawyer Randol Schoenberg (played by Ryan Reynolds), successfully sued the Austrian government for the return of five Klimt paintings originally looted by Nazi soldiers in the Bloch-Bauer family townhouse in Vienna.
The works of Klimt also had a moment on the AW15 runways, namely at Valentino where design duo Pierpaolo Piccioli and Maria Grazia Chiuri informed a collection inspired by Klimt’s muse, Emilie Flöge in fox fur coats scattered in gold. Prior to this season, Klimt’s oeuvre touched upon the collections of Tory Burch, Rick Owens and Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy muse – from gold gilded silhouettes to metallic sheen explorations.