Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Woman in Gold: the painting, the exhibition and the film

When I am lucky enough to get to New York City, I always make it a point to drop in to the Neue Gallery on 5th Avenue at 86th Street, part of Museum Row. For one thing, I love its on-site Café Sabarsky, and try to time my visit so that I can indulge in their wonderful cake and coffee, mit Schlag. 

The decor of the café is inspired by the traditional Viennese coffee house from the turn of the last century, and somehow between the coffee, the cake, the period decor and the elegant waiters with their waist-to-knee white aprons, I am transported to another place and time.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, the Neue Gallery....

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Gustav Klimt

The gallery specializes in German and Austrian art of the early 20th century, and I've seen excellent solo exhibitions there of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. The highlight of the permanent collection is Klimt's dazzling portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. This single painting is the subject of a special exhibit being staged through September 7, 2015, to coincide with the release of the film "Woman in Gold", starring Helen Mirren.
 "Gustav Klimt and Adele Bloch-Bauer: The Woman in Gold," [is] an intimate exhibition devoted to the close relationship that existed between the artist and one of his key subjects and patrons. Included in the exhibition will be a display of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, paintings, related drawings, vintage photographs, decorative arts, and archival material."

The film has been criticized as being dumbed-down, too Hollywood, too melodramatic, and it is all of those things. But it is also the compelling and true account of a woman who took on the government of Austria, asserting her claim on a masterpiece that was stolen from her family by the Nazis and displayed for years at Vienna's Belvedere Palace as the property of the state. After an eight-year battle, she won her case. Ultimately, she sold the painting to Ronald Lauder, co-founder of the Neue Gallery, for $135 million and distributed the bulk of the proceeds to charity. She stipulated that this portrait of her aunt Adele always be on display to the public.

If you've had the good fortune to spend time in Vienna, you will enjoy spotting familiar scenes, as much of the movie was filmed on location there. The fascinating story gives us a glimpse, admittedly simplistic, into the complicated intrigue surrounding art stolen by the German occupiers, and its restitution to its rightful owners: an issue very much in today's headlines.


Unknown said...

I just recently watched the movie regarding this portrait. I was so touched. I can't wait to visit and see this.

Heather Dubreuil said...

You may also enjoy the book "Lady in Gold" by Anne-Marie O'Connor, on which the film is based. A challenging read but a compelling story.