Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I

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Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
Gustav Klimt 046.jpg
Artist Gustav Klimt
Year 1907
Type Oil, silver, and gold on canvas
Dimensions 138 cm × 138 cm (54 in × 54 in)
Location Neue Galerie, New York

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is a 1907 painting by Gustav Klimt. The first of two portraits Klimt painted of Bloch-Bauer, it has been referred to as the final and most fully representative work of his golden phase.[1]

Adele Bloch-Bauer (1881–1925) was a refined art-loving Viennese salon lady, a patron and close friend of Gustav Klimt.[2]

The painting was appropriated by the Nazis, and its ownership was subsequently contested between the heirs of the original owners and the Austrian state, finally being settled by a panel of Austrian judges in favor of the family members. According to press reports, the work was later sold for US$135 million to Ronald Lauder for his Neue Galerie in New York City in June 2006, which made it at that time the most expensive painting for about 4 months.[3] It has been on display at the gallery since July 2006.

The painting[edit]

Klimt took three years to complete the painting; preliminary drawings for it date from 1903/4.[4] It measures 54" x 54" [138 x 138 cm] and is made of oil and gold on canvas, showing elaborate and complex ornamentation as seen in the Jugendstil style. Klimt was a member of the Vienna Secession, a group of artists that broke away from the traditional way of painting. The picture was painted in Vienna and commissioned by Adele's husband Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer.[5] As a wealthy industrialist who had made his fortune in the sugar industry, he sponsored the arts and favored and supported Gustav Klimt. Adele Bloch-Bauer[6] became the only model who was painted twice by Klimt when he completed a second picture of her, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, in 1912.

Ownership of the painting[edit]

Public poster announcing the departure of the painting from Austria

Adele Bloch-Bauer, in her will, asked her husband to donate the Klimt paintings to the Austrian State Gallery upon his death.[7] She died in 1925 from meningitis. When the Nazis took over Austria, her widowed husband had to flee to Switzerland. His property, including the Klimt paintings, was confiscated. In his 1945 testament, Bloch-Bauer designated his nephew and nieces, including Maria Altmann, as the inheritors of his estate.[8]

As Bloch-Bauer's pictures had remained in Austria, the Austrian government took the position that the testament of Adele Bloch-Bauer had determined that these pictures were to stay there. After a protracted court battle in the United States and in Austria (see Republic of Austria v. Altmann), binding arbitration by a panel of Austrian judges established in 2006 that Maria Altmann was the rightful owner of this and four other paintings by Klimt.[9]

Throughout the process, Stephen Lash, chairman of Christie's Americas, provided Altmann with artistic and legal information. After the pictures were sent to America, Christie's discussed with Ronald Lauder the possibility of a private treaty sale. In its business proposal Christie's put on the five Klimts a value of around $300 million, putting the value of Adele Bloch-Bauer I at $135 million. The amount of the guarantee offered by Christie's remains undisclosed.[10] The paintings were then shortly on display in Los Angeles in 2006 before the Adele Bloch-Bauer I was eventually sold to Lauder in June 2006, who reportedly paid the agreed $135 million. Christie's offered to finance in large part the acquisition by accepting a consignment of works of art worth around $100 million.[10]

The painting is the centerpiece of Lauder’s collection, Neue Galerie in New York. Lauder’s comment on the acquisition for his Neue Gallerie collection: “This is our Mona Lisa”.[11] Originally, the four additional works by Klimt were included in the exhibition.

Soon after the first transaction, news of the forthcoming auction of the four other Klimts was announced, triggering speculation about the probable prices of the Klimts at auction.[10] In November 2006, Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912) was sold at Christie's in New York, fetching almost $88m. In total the four remaining paintings sold for $192.7 million and the proceeds were divided up among several heirs. The buyers of those paintings remain anonymous. The wish of Maria Altmann[citation needed] that the paintings should be accessible to the general public in a museum has not been fulfilled.

Some in the art world criticized the heirs' decision to sell all of the restituted paintings: specifically, New York Times chief art critic Michael Kimmelman described the heirs as "cashing in," and thus transforming a "story about justice and redemption after the Holocaust" into "yet another tale of the crazy, intoxicating art market." Kimmelman wrote: "Wouldn’t it have been remarkable (I’m just dreaming here) if the heirs had decided instead to donate one or more of the paintings to a public institution?"[12]


Maria Altmann's story is dramatized in the 2015 film Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren as Maria and Ryan Reynolds as her lawyer, E. Randol Schoenberg.

Her story has also been recounted in three documentary films. Adele's Wish[13] by filmmaker Terrence Turner, who is the husband of Altmann's great-niece, was released in 2008. Adele's Wish featured interviews with Altmann, Schoenberg and leading experts from around the world. Altmann's story was also the subject of the documentary Stealing Klimt, which was released in 2007. That movie also featured interviews with Altmann, Schoenberg, and others who were closely involved with the story.

The piece was also featured in the 2006 documentary The Rape of Europa, which dealt with the massive theft of art in Europe by the German (Nazi) Government during World War II.


This piece is featured in the memoir of Gregor Collins, The Accidental Caregiver: How I Met, Loved, and Lost Legendary Holocaust Refugee Maria Altmann, published on August 15, 2012.[14]

The tale of the painting and those involved with it is covered in detail in the book by Anne-Marie O'Connor, The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, published on February 7, 2012.[15]

This work as well as other stories of the clashes between the heirs determined to retrieve their inheritance and the current owners are told by Melissa Müller and Monika Tatzkow in Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice, published by The Vendome Press on September 1, 2010. [16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Partsch, Susanna. Klimt: Life and Work, p. 242. Bracken Books, London, 1989. ISBN 1 85170 286 5
  2. ^ Shapira, Elana (2009-03-1). "Adele Bloch-Bauer.". Jewish Women's Archive, Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2014-10-24.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. ^ Vogel, Carol (2006-06-19). "NY Times report from June 19, 2006". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  4. ^ Partsch, 242
  5. ^ Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer was born Ferdinand Bloch, the son of David Bloch (also known as Abraham Bloch), a banker and sugar factory owner, and his wife Marie, née Straschnow. Ferdinand married Adele Bauer, the daughter of Moritz Bauer (director of the Vienna bank Wiener Bankverein) and his wife Jeanette, née Honig. When Ferdinand married Adele, both adopted the surname Bloch-Bauer.
  6. ^ Her name is pronounced as [aˈdeːlə blɔx ˈbaʊ̯ɐ] in German.
  7. ^ "Last Will 1923". Adele.at. 1923-01-19. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  8. ^ "Bloch-Bauer 1945 testament". Arthistory.about.com. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  9. ^ "List and Pictures of Klimt Paintings ("Amalie" not part of the five pictures), Photo of Adele Bloch-Bauer, Photo of Klimt". Adele.at. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  10. ^ a b c Souren Melikian (January 12, 2007), How Christie's kept top spot over Sotheby's in 2006 sales New York Times.
  11. ^ "Quote". Spiegel.de. 2006-06-19. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  12. ^ Kimmelman, Michael (2006-09-19). "Klimts Go to Market; Museums Hold Their Breath". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-05-15. 
  13. ^ adeleswish.com
  14. ^ http://www.amazon.com/The-Accidental-Caregiver-Legendary-Holocaust-ebook/dp/B0092GS96K
  15. ^ "The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]". Retrieved 2013-01-24. 
  16. ^ "Lost Lives, Lost Art: Jewish Collectors, Nazi Art Theft, and the Quest for Justice [Hardcover]". TheVendomePress. Retrieved 2014-07-15. 


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