Thursday, February 9, 2017

Learning Dispatch - February 10th, 2017 - The Adele Bloch Bauer Painting

Why the dispatch? - I want to understand how we can make our learning more social. I love having conversations with friends and colleagues about new things we have learned. So these dispatches are part of an effort to get those conversations started.

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907. Oil, silver, and gold on canvas. © 2015. Neue Galerie New York/Art Resource/Scala, Florence

The Story of a Painting

The 'Portrait of Adele Block Bauer I' is a 1907 painting by Gustav Klimt. I recently got an opportunity to visit the Neue Gallery in New York where this painting is on public display. On the way to the gallery, my sister told me about the story behind this painting. I was intrigued. I did not know paintings had stories to tell too.

The Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I, is like the Mona Lisa for the people of Austria. It belonged to a prominent Jewish Sugar Merchant who lived with his family in Vienna, Austria in the 1900's. His name was Ferdinand Bloch Bauer. In the summer of 1903, he commissioned the painter Gustav Klint to paint his wife's portrait whose name was Adele Bloch Bauer. 

This painting was forcefully taken away from the family, following the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany. Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer had to flee the country and settle down in Zurich. The painting was never returned back to him during his lifetime. The name of the painting was also changed to 'Woman in Gold' because of Klimt's heavy use of gold to depict Adele's outfit. The Neue Gallery website describes how in the painting, 'her hands are folded in such a way as to conceal a deformed finger, yet the gesture only adds to her mysterious grace.'

Who was Adele Bloch-Bauer?

I wanted to know more about the person in this painting. I looked for some information online and this is what I found in an article by Elana Shapira on the website of the Jewish Women's Archive linked here:

'Adele Bloch-Bauer was born in Vienna on August 9, 1881, the youngest daughter of the seven children of the banker Moritz Bauer (1840–1905) and Jeannette Bauer née Honig (1844–1922). Her father was the general director of the influential Viennese Bank association and the president of the Orient railway company. When she was fifteen her sheltered world was shaken by the early death of her much loved older brother Karl. Presumably it was the trauma of his death that caused her to distance herself from religion. Denied the possibility to study and feeling unhappy at her parents’ house, Adele married relatively young. 

On December 19, 1899, she married the industrialist Ferdinand Bloch (1864–1945) who was seventeen years her senior. Her marriage followed the marriage of her sister Therese (1874–1961) to Ferdinand’s brother, Dr. Gustav Bloch (1862–1938). Adele and Ferdinand had no children. In 1917, both couples added the wives’ maiden name to the family name: Bloch-Bauer. Adele Bloch-Bauer gave the impression of a refined mixture of romantic personae: sick and fragile on the one hand and a self-conscious and proud salon lady on the other. Indeed, Bloch-Bauer may have found her rôle models in romantic literature. She studied German, French and English classical literature by herself, at her own initiative. She was delicate, tending to be sick, and gave the impression of someone who suffered. Her narrow face appeared elegant and intellectual as well as arrogant and smug.' 

What happened to the painting?

In 2004, Maria Altmann, Adele's California-based niece had sued the Republic of Austria and the demanded that the Klimt painting be returned to her. In January 2006, the paintings the arbitration resulted in the award of the paintings to Maria Altman as the heir of the Bloch-Bauer family. In June 2006, Roland Lauder, purchased these paintings for the Neue Gallery in Manhattan for a record sum of 135 million dollars. I was now standing in front of this painting at the gallery over ten years later in the year 2016. I thought about everything this painting had to experience over its lifetime. What if paintings had a life and a voice of their own? What stories would they tell?

That evening I asked my sister if there was any resource I could explore to find out more about the story of this painting. She told me to watch the 2015 film starring Helen Mirren, titled, 'Women in Gold'. You can watch the trailer of the movie at this link. 

Helen Mirren does a brilliant job in playing the role of Maria Altman who with a sense of nostalgia narrates the story of her aunt, Adele Bloch Bauer's life in Vienna. Ryan Reynolds plays the lawyer, E.Randal Schoenberg who helped her successfully fight the case against the Republic of Austria.

You can find out more about the painting on the Neue Gallery website linked here.

Works Cited
- Shapira. E. Adele Bloch Bauer (1881 - 1925).  Encyclopedia Entry. Jewish Women's Archive. 
- 'Neue Galerie New York Agrees to Acquire Spectacular Klimt Painting, "Adele Bloch-Bauer I"'.

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