Tuesday, March 3, 2015


GUSTAV KLIMT (Austrian, 1862-1918)
Signed and dated lower right: GUSTAV KLIMT 1907
Oil, silver and gold on canvas
140 x 140 cm
Neue Galerie, New York

Enter the shimmering aura of Adele Bloch-Bauer.
Would you like to be painted like a modern Byzantine icon, encrusted in gold? 
Would your face appear transparent, your hands delicate and your eyes made to look like two large almonds?
Can you name some of the precious stones and metals in the picture?
Even the green floor on the left seems to be made of pure emerald.
Is Adele sitting in a chair or standing?
Find the contours of the big wing chair.
Symbols and patterns make up the background, chair and dress.
Klimt admired Egyptian art where eyes are the symbol of protection from evil.
Can you count the eyes on her dress?
Behind her chair is another pair of eyes; whose eyes might they be?
On the flowing cape you will find her gold encrusted initials: A and B!
A hundred years ago Adele was one of the most glamorous women in cosmopolitan Vienna.  She persuaded her husband to hire Klimt to paint her portrait. It took Gustav Klimt three years to finish the picture.
Now Adele is the most glamorous woman in New York.  Like pure gold, her beauty never tarnished.
In 1938 the Nazis stole Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer’s house in Vienna, the art collection, his castle near Prague and his sugar factory.  They didn’t like the Klimts and sold them to an Austrian museum.   The portrait of Adele stayed there until recently.  The Austrian government believed the museum owned it.  This was not true.  It belonged to Adele’s niece and heir Maria Altmann, who had fled to Los Angeles, California.  68 years later with the help of an Austrian journalist and an American lawyer, 90-year old Maria won her case.  In 2006 her property was returned to her.
Maria Altmann decided to sell the picture.  Adele’s portrait is now the centerpiece of a precious jewel box of a museum, the Neue Galerie, New York.  You have to be 12 years old to visit Adele but in the meantime you can console yourself at the museum cafĂ© with the best apple strudel and hot chocolate this side of the Atlantic. 
Klimt didn’t like to mince words.  He painted instead.  He portrayed many of the beautiful ladies in Vienna.
He made many pencil drawings to prepare for the painting.
The artist draws his design with adhesive on the canvas. He then gently brushes the gold and silver leaf on the adhesive.   The rest dusts off and the gold or silver design remains.
Why has gold always been so important to humans?
It has to be mined.
It does not tarnish.
It is soft.  This means you can engrave it and mold it.
Gustav Klimt’s father was a gold engraver. 
How many expressions and fairy tales do you know that involve the word gold?
The story is now a movie: “Woman in Gold”.

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