It is a well known fact that during the Second World War, the homes and possessions of Jewish people from Germany and Austria were plundered by Nazis. Many amazing works of art were lost in those times, destroyed by those ill equipped to understand their beauty. Others, were stolen, and made their way in private collections or museums. Perhaps one of the most famous paintings to have suffered such a fate was Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I that was later entitled The Woman in Gold.
In 1907, Gustav Klimt painted the first in a series of two paintings of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a refined art-loving Viennese salon lady and also close friend of the painter. The painting became known as the final and perhaps most representative work in his gold phase. The artist took three years to finish the painting, using oil colors and gold on the canvas. Adele Bloch-Bauer, unfortunately, did not have the fortune of enjoying her painting for long. She died in 1925, from meningitis. In her will, she asked her husband to donate the painting to the Austrian State Gallery at his death.
Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938. In light of this event, her widower fled to Prague and later to Zurich, abandoning most of his possessions including the portrait. His possessions were looted and the painting made its way to the Austrian State Gallery located at the Belvedere Palace in 1941. Its name was changed from the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I to the Woman in Gold in order to erase the Jewish origins of the artist’s muse. Upon his death, in 1945, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer named his nephew and nieces as heirs of the estate. One of them was Maria Altmann.
It wasn’t until the year 2000 that Maria Altmann could try and recover her aunt’s painting. She sued Austria in the US court for several Klimt paintings belonging to her family. In 2006, she won the lawsuit and was declared the rightful owner of her aunt’s painting and five other Klimt works of art.
Did you know the story of this painting was adapted in several movies, one of them being The Woman in Gold?