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The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer Paperback – March 31, 2015
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“Fascinating. . . . A mesmerizing tale of art and the Holocaust.” —The Washington Post
“A celebration of art and persistence. . . . O’Connor’s book brings Klimt’s exceptional portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer home, broadening the meaning of homeland at the same time.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“Ms. O’Connor has told an important story.” —The Wall Street Journal
“O’Connor skillfully filters Austria’s troubled twentieth century through the life of Klimt’s most beloved muse. . . . A nuanced view of a painting whose story transcends its own time.” —Bookforum
“Captivating.” —MORE Magazine
“Combines detailed reportage with passionate storytelling. . . . Unraveling the portrait’s journey also reveals how global norms of art and war have changed, and the powerful roles that art plays in politics, society, identity and memory.” —The Rumpus
“A fascinating book.” —The Dallas Morning News
“Richly drawn. . . . Part history and part mystery, The Lady in Gold is a striking tale.” —BookPage
“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. . . . 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.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Intriguing. . . . Poignant and convincing. . . . 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.” —Publishers Weekly
“Writing with a novelist’s dynamism, 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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The story begins close to the present when finally the Klimt painting was handed over by Austria to the family of Adele in 2006. But then backwards in time we go to the late 19th century. To a cosmopolitan Imperial city - Vienna. A glorious Vienna where women of the "second society" (read: liberated, secular, wealthy Jews and non-aristocrats) were able to hold salons for the artists and authors who would never have been exposed to the public or gained so much fame otherwise. But it was also frequented by the famous too. Mark Twain stopped by on his travels through Europe and received a warm welcome from the people open to modernity but was also vilified by the establishment. The first female doctor in Vienna visited. The composers Mahler and Strauss frequented the salons. And so did artists, including Klimt. And while we get a lot on the world of this society of the liberated Jews, we also learn a lot about Klimt.
After recreating this world of artistic and intellectual ferment, however, the book turns dark. The Fall of the Habsburg Empire was a catastrophe for Imperial Vienna. No longer was Vienna the center of a multicultural polyglot empire. Now it was only the capital of the rump state of Austria. And vastly reduced in population and glory. The book is part a biography of Klimt. Part a biography of Adele Bloch-Bauer (and her many relations). But it is also a biography of Vienna. And while the interwar years were not great for Vienna, the deepest darkness was still to come during the Anschluss. Now the society of the salons would be broken. And lost forever. The Nazis would attempt to erase the cultural brilliance from history. The names would attempt to be forgotten. The Germanification of Austria would leave no room for Jews or the part they played in making Vienna a capital of modernity.
The Nazi years when the family scattered through Europe, the postwar period when Vienna was occupied by the four main Allies, the end of deNazification in '48 because Vienna was important to the West and was not going to be lost to the Communist Soviets are all discussed and the families that are the core of the book weather the tempests of time. Though not all make it. Some are lost to firing squads. Some to suicide. Some to Concentration Camps. Some made it through the Fascist years but ended up killed by Tito's forces in Yugoslavia (part of the family had huge assets there). And then the story continues in the new world where some of Adele's descendants survived.
But it also continues in a disgusting version of Austria. And the last part of the book discusses the collective amnesia. And how the Austrians now would not let any art leave the country because art was part of the national cultural patrimony. But some lesser works could leave if the owners whose works were stolen would agree to more valuable works staying. This post-war Austria eventually succumbs to something better and so the story ends in the period when the stolen artworks begin to be reclaimed by the original owners's families.
The book is a masterpiece of story telling. The author recreates the world and makes you identify with these historical personages. For anyone who wants to know more about Austrian history, this is a great book to read. For anyone who loves history, this is a great book to read.
Their fascinating lives of beauty, loss and remembrance reveals a deeper truth beneath the golden surface of the stolen art..
I applaud Maria for reclaiming her aunt's portrait from the Austrian museum and selling it as well as the Klimt paintings for 300 milion nearly sixty years later!! And she didn't even buy a new dishwaher witth the money she got according to her caregiver.
Maria's raiders of the lost art story is not "degenerate art". Art like mythology is an over arching frame of reference that tells an individual who they are and where they are going.
During the reading, I began to ask myself how could these decent cultured Austrian people allow or think it was okay to collude with the Naziis in art theft from the Jewish people? Allied bombs came crashing into their opera houses and the art museums..
For instance Gustav Mahler the director of the Vienna State Opera was a good friend of Hitlers? How could a cultured talented man be a friend of Hitler?
Maria also revealed that it was a secret that Americans were working with former Nazii's Dr. Herbert Wagner after WWII.
Some of Wagner and his scientists had performed abominable experiments on Jewish victims at concentration camps (P. 258-259)
Dr. Wagner and Werner von Braun another member of the SS were later used to help jumpstart NASA in the United States, though they had overseen slave labor operations where thousands have died."
Maria Altman also stated that former Nazi governor Baldur von Schirarch had served only 20 years and lived long enough to be interviewed by David Frost. His concluding alibi with Frost was a a quote from "Alice in Wonderland"?
Also, Maria reflected that her gestapo minder Felix Landau was barely punished and lived for years in Bravaria as an interior designer. He loved fairytales and had a famous Hungarian painter paint fairytales on the walls of his child's personal nursery room.
I would love to help these war criminal re story their lives with parables and art from the Bible rather than fairytales.
I have to agree with Adelle that art is an essential prism for understanding the world and to help people to see things differently..