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The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

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Overview

The spellbinding story, part fairy tale, part suspense, of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, one of the most emblematic portraits of its time; of the beautiful, seductive Viennese Jewish salon hostess who sat for it; the notorious artist who painted it; the now vanished turn-of-the-century Vienna that shaped it; and the strange twisted fate that befell it.
 
The Lady in Gold, considered an unforgettable masterpiece, one of the ...

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The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

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Overview

The spellbinding story, part fairy tale, part suspense, of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, one of the most emblematic portraits of its time; of the beautiful, seductive Viennese Jewish salon hostess who sat for it; the notorious artist who painted it; the now vanished turn-of-the-century Vienna that shaped it; and the strange twisted fate that befell it.
 
The Lady in Gold, considered an unforgettable masterpiece, one of the twentieth century’s most recognizable paintings, made headlines all over the world when Ronald Lauder bought it for $135 million a century after Klimt, the most famous Austrian painter of his time, completed the society portrait.
 
Anne-Marie O’Connor, writer for The Washington Post, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, tells the galvanizing story of the Lady in Gold, Adele Bloch-Bauer, a dazzling Viennese Jewish society figure; daughter of the head of one of the largest banks in the Hapsburg Empire, head of the Oriental Railway, whose Orient Express went from Berlin to Constantinople; wife of Ferdinand Bauer, sugar-beet baron.
 
The Bloch-Bauers were art patrons, and Adele herself was considered a rebel of fin de siècle Vienna (she wanted to be educated, a notion considered “degenerate” in a society that believed women being out in the world went against their feminine “nature”). The author describes how Adele inspired the portrait and how Klimt made more than a hundred sketches of her—simple pencil drawings on thin manila paper.
 
And O’Connor writes of Klimt himself, son of a failed gold engraver, shunned by arts bureaucrats, called an artistic heretic in his time, a genius in ours.
 
She writes of the Nazis confiscating the portrait of Adele from the Bloch-Bauers’ grand palais; of the Austrian government putting the painting on display, stripping Adele’s Jewish surname from it so that no clues to her identity (nor any hint of her Jewish origins) would be revealed. Nazi officials called the painting, The Lady in Gold and proudly exhibited it in Vienna’s Baroque Belvedere Palace, consecrated in the 1930s as a Nazi institution.
 
The author writes of the painting, inspired by the Byzantine mosaics Klimt had studied in Italy, with their exotic symbols and swirls, the subject an idol in a golden shrine.
 
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.
 
A riveting social history; an illuminating and haunting look at turn-of-the-century Vienna; a brilliant portrait of the evolution of a painter; a masterfully told tale of suspense. And at the heart of it, the Lady in Gold—the shimmering painting, and its equally irresistible subject, the fate of each forever intertwined.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
One of Gustav Klimt’s most celebrated paintings (sold to Ronald Lauder for a record million in 2006 and now in the Neue Galerie in New York City, encapsulates a fascinating, complicated cultural history of fin-de-siècle Vienna, its Jewish intelligentsia, and their near complete destruction by the Nazis. Washington Post journalist O’Connor traces the multifaceted history of Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907) in this intriguing, energetically composed, but overly episodic study of Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, and her niece, Maria Bloch-Bauer who reclaimed five Klimt paintings stolen by the Nazis and was extensively interviewed by O’Connor. According to Maria, Adele was “a modern woman, living in the world of yesterday.” The book’s first and strongest section vividly evokes the intellectually precocious and ambitious Adele’s rich cultural and social milieu in Vienna, and how she became entwined with the charismatic, sexually charged, and irreverent Klimt, who may have been Adele’s lover before and also during her marriage. During WWII, Adele’s portrait was renamed by the Nazis as the Dame in Gold to erase her Jewish identity. O’Connor’s final arguments about the tragic yet redemptive symbolism of Adele’s portrait are poignant and convincing: while it represents the failure of the dream of Jews like Adele to assimilate, through the painting she achieves “her dream of immortality.” 54 photos. Agent: Steve Wasserman, Kneerim and Williams. (Feb.)
Library Journal
This is an extraordinary biography, not merely of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the subject of one of Gustav Klimt's most famous paintings, but also of the work itself and the world of early 20th-century Vienna. The painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) was famous before its record-breaking purchase in 2006 at $135 million by Ronald S. Lauder for his New York-based Neue Galerie. Through her painstaking research, O'Connor (Washington Post) manages to capture the cultural, historical, and political climate that gave birth to this painting. She describes the anti-Semitism that permeated early 20th-century Vienna and the role that Jews played (often as outsiders) in that society. Stolen by the Nazis during World War II and renamed The Lady in Gold (to avoid any hint that its subject was Jewish), the painting was at the center of an eight-year battle by Bloch-Bauer's niece Maria Altmann to regain her family's legacy. VERDICT Although the narrative is somewhat episodic, the history is fascinating. This is an essential title for readers interested in art history, European history, and Judaic studies. Highly recommended.—Herbert E. Shapiro, Lifelong Learning Soc., Florida Atlantic Univ., Boca Raton
Library Journal
This epic story of a painting begins in the late 19th century, as Gustav Klimt becomes the premier painter of the Vienna Secession and Adele Bloch-Bauer, a renowned salon hostess and patron of the arts, and ends at the beginning of the 21st century, as his portrait of her is auctioned for a record-breaking $135 million. In between, the painting is seized by Nazis, renamed to hide its Jewish subject, held by Austria for decades, and finally won back by Bloch-Bauer’s heirs in an agonizing legal battle. (LJ 3/1/12)—Molly McArdle

(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
The lusciously detailed story of Gustav Klimt's most famous painting, detailing the relationship between the artist, the subject, their heirs and those who coveted the masterpiece. Family letters, which remarkably survived the war, support the biography of Klimt and Bloch-Bauer, and the Nazi regime's precise records contribute to their story as they gathered up all of Europe's art collections. Washington Post writer O'Connor then deals with their heirs' fight with Austria to restore their property. Klimt was born a catholic in 1862 in Vienna, a city in which the Hapsburgs courted highly successful Jews to finance their railroads. Those Jews easily intermarried with the established families of the empire. Even though 10 percent of Vienna was Jewish, only a very few were sufficiently wealthy to be considered part of the "second society" of freshly minted aristocrats and industrialists. The poorer Jews continued as victims especially as Vienna became the birthplace of anti-Semitism as a main political force. Klimt and his brother, Ernst, were sons of a gold engraver who established themselves early in life as painters of frescoes and architectural decorations. Ernst's premature death caused Gustav to turn away from their success and devote himself to art. Klimt and his friends closely followed the trials of the French Impressionists and imitated their rejection of the established art world with their own "Secession," exhibiting their "art of the soul." From the time it was painted, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer caused a sensation, and Klimt and Bloch-Bauer delighted in it. O'Connor's thorough research comes fully into the light in the second part of the book as she traces the "ownership" of this painting and the inestimable number of artworks that were absorbed as Hitler planned his museum in Linz. Finally, the tenacity with which descendants of those robbed by the Nazis is exemplified by the work of Randol Schoenberg, who tirelessly strove to assure the return of the Lady in Gold. Art-history fans will love the deep details of the painting, and history buffs will revel in the facts O'Connor includes as she exposes a deeper picture of World War II.
Kathryn Lang
…a fascinating work, ambitious, exhaustively researched and profligately detailed…But the book's title does not do justice to O'Connor's scope, which includes the Viennese Belle Epoque, the Anschluss, the diaspora of Viennese Jews, the looting of their artwork and legal battles over its restitution, and thorny questions facing the heirs of reclaimed art…O'Connor's book is a mesmerizing tale of art and the Holocaust, encased in a profusion of beguiling detail, much as Adele herself is encrusted in Klimt's resplendent portrait.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
"O'Connor resurrects fascinating individuals and tells a many-faceted, intensely affecting, and profoundly revelatory tale of the inciting power of art and the unending need for justice." —-Booklist Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307265647
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/7/2012
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 52,336
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne-Marie O’Connor attended Vassar College, studied painting at the San Francisco Art Institute, and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. She was a foreign correspondent for Reuters and a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times for twelve years, and has written extensively on the Klimt painting and the Bloch-Bauer family’s efforts to recover its art collection. Her articles have appeared in Esquire, The Nation, and The Christian Science Monitor. She currently writes for The Washington Post from Mexico City, where her husband, William Booth, is Post bureau chief.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2012

    a bit long

    interesting as far as to the historical background of Vienna, its culture, artists, Nazi occupation and persecution of the Jews and theft of their art works. A bit too long

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    recommended

    this is a good example of life in vienna. wealth, culture,arts and the looming nazi takeover. it gives a human element to a spectacular painting and how life intertwines with it.. so many people were connected. the final outcome is good and we can hope that the future outcome of stolen treasures will benefit the true owners of these masterpieces. loved it!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2012

    Thank you for stocking this excellent book!

    Thank you for stocking this excellent book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2013

    The scholarship of MS O'Connor is evident from the first page to

    The scholarship of MS O'Connor is evident from the first page to the last.  "Lady In Gold,"  gives an excellent portrait of time and place.
     A reader is swept along in the descriptions of the lifestyle of pre-WW2 Vienna, and the salons of the elegant Adele Bloch-Bauer.
    Among the guests present would be famous authors,  including, Mark Twain.  And artists, such as Gustav Klimt.

    "The "Lady In Gold' refers to a painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Klimt.  "The lady In Gold"  takes on a life of its own when it is stolen by the
     Nazis.  As the painting's subject and creator are swept along by history, it is the painting that becomes most important.

    Adele's niece, Maria Bloch-Bauer fought Austria for decades, to have five paintings returned to the Bloch- Bauer family.  Among the  paintings was "The Lady In Gold"                                                  
    The recovery of the paintings brings us up to the present day .        

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2013

    Absolutely brilliant!  I love the historic research and the hist

    Absolutely brilliant!  I love the historic research and the history that belonged to that ERA.  Wonderfully written.  We read the book as part of our book club selection .  The timing was perfect.  Once again today more of these Masterpieces were found hiding in someone hanging in  another home that had no right to the paintings.  For same on all who knowingly stored these pictures on there walls. The history background of this story is extremely important.  I loved every minute of the book.    

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2013

    Wonderful read!

    Finally an author that writes above a high school leval.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2012

    Terrible

    Was like reading a history book and not in any way entertaining was a waste of money

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2012

    As a book club member, I often find it helpful when a revier or

    As a book club member, I often find it helpful when a revier or report on the book includes study/discussion questions. It seems these are missing in this case. Maybe somebody could offer a few to stimulate discussion sessions for the reader(s). mable-in-lagro+st.pete

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 14, 2012

    My Mom & Grandmother were from Vienna I had higher hopes fo

    My Mom & Grandmother were from Vienna I had higher hopes for this book - while very historical and factual, the author chooses to color the narrative and dialogue between Klimt & the characters as if she were present when they were alive! Seriously? Investigative, newspaper columnists should stick to that genre of writing - it doesn't translate to historical events. The book was interesting - but more because my family hails from Vienna & I wanted to kn0w me about that period of time. The book was too long - could definately have been condensed -= I skipped over paragraphs & paragraphs - and still found that it dragged

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  • Posted April 7, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Boring

    This book had potential. The terrible history behind the famous Klimt painting could have made for an important and interesting contribution to the many books concerning the Nazi era. However, the way this book is narrated kept me from getting into the the story as it was very dry with too much attention to the little insignificant details. It was highly reviewed by critics and I respect that, however, I found it boring and very draggy.

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  • Posted February 22, 2012

    never got the book

    The order was canceled and never got the book

    0 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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