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“Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt 046

“Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by Gustav Klimt

“Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by Gustav Klimt is also called “The Lady in Gold” or “The Woman in Gold” is a portrait commissioned by Adele’s husband. This picture is the most significant representative work of Klimt’s golden phase. It was the first of two depictions of Adele by Klimt.

Klimt drew over a hundred preparatory sketches for the portrait starting is 1903. During that year, Klimt visited the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna where he studied the early-Christian Byzantine gold mosaics of Justinian I and his wife, Empress Theodora. The mosaics made a deep impression on Klimt. Klimt later said that the:

“mosaics of unbelievable splendour” were a “revelation”.

Klimt undertook more preparatory work for this portrait than any other piece he created. This painting was completed using an elaborate technique of gold and silver leaf and then adding decorative motifs in bas-relief using gesso. Klimt finished the work in1907, almost five years after his initial preparatory sketches.

Adel died in 1925 and then following the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938, Adele’s husband fled to Vienna, and made his way to Switzerland, leaving behind his extensive art collection. The painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941, along with the remainder of Ferdinand’s assets. The lawyer acting on behalf of the German state gave the portrait to the Galerie Belvedere, claiming he was following the wishes Adele had made in her will.

When Ferdinand, her husband, died in 1946, he left a will that stated that his estate should go to his nephew and two nieces. In 2006, following eight years of legal efforts by the Bloch-Bauer heirs, the painting was returned to the family. In 2015 the story of how this painting returned to the family was dramatised in the famous film “Woman in Gold” starring Helen Mirren.

Gustav Klimt was a symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement. Klimt’s primary subject was the female body, and his works are marked by eroticism. Klimt was influenced by Japanese art and Byzantine gold mosaics which led to his success with the paintings of his “golden phase”, many of which include gold leaf. “The Kiss” is Klimt’s most famous painting.

Biography of the painting “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I”

  • The picture was completed in 1907 and hung in the family house in Vienna, Austria
  • It was commissioned by the sitter’s husband, who owned the painting
  • The subject of the portrait, Adele died in 1925; her will asked that the artworks by Klimt be left to the Galerie Belvedere
  • The Nazis stole it in 1941 from the family house
  • It was displayed in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, a museum in Vienna, Austria for nearly 60 years
  • Mr Bloch-Bauer died in 1946; his will stated that his estate should go to his nephew and two nieces
  • Following eight years of legal effort by the Bloch-Bauer heirs, the painting was returned to the family
  • The painting sold in 2006 for $135 million and is now displayed in New York

Exploring Gustav Klimt

Reflections

  • What makes Gustav Klimt’s art so recognisable?
  • Do some paintings have a story so fascinating, that it deserves its own biography?
  • Why has this fascinating painting’s story has been told in multiple films?

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

  • Title:                Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
  • Artist:              Gustav Klimt
  • Created:          1907
  • Medium:         Oil, silver and gold on canvas
  • Dimensions:   180 cm × 180 cm
  • Museum:         Neue Galerie New York

Gustav Klimt

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“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

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Photo Credit 1) Gustav Klimt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons