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The Lady in Gold by Anne-Marie O'Connor

In case you need an excuse for a trip to Paris – be advised there is an exhibit you might like to see while you are there. The Pinacotheque de Paris, a private museum established in 2007, is presenting In the Time of Klimt – The Vienna Secession. I’d suggest you go to Vienna to see the Klimts but some of their collection is in the Paris exhibit. Or perhaps an easier trip would be to New York City where you could go to the Neue Gallery. A current exhibit is about the Woman in Gold and the story of the history of this painting as told by Anne-Marie O’Connor in her book The Lady in Gold. This book is much in the news at the moment as the film has just been released, telling the story about a printing, a painter, and his patrons – describing their lives before, during and after the Second World War – mostly in the Vienna. It is an entirely fascinating story.

I thought I knew quite a lot about Klimt and his paintings, but I had a lot to learn. I also thought I knew a lot about the lives and the fate of the Jews of Vienna but again there is a lot I learned from The Lady in Gold. Most astounding was the society in which Klimt and Adele lived – their circle included Felix Salten, most well known as the author of Bambi, Bruno Bettelheim author of The Uses of Enchantment, Bertold Brecht, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Carl Moll, Gustav and Alma Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, Egon Schiele and many many other well known writers, artists and musicians – an astounding world in which to live. One about to come to a tragic end.

When Hitler marched into Vienna the lives of even the most assimilated Jews were torn apart – some left while others could not believe they needed to do so. The Anschluss – the re-unification of Austria and Germany – destroyed all they had accomplished in Vienna, where many Jews had established very affluent and productive lives.

Vienna is still a pretty conservative place, in my opinion. In the early 1900s it was a society quite shocked by the paintings of Gustav Klimt and his contemporaries who founded the movement that became known as the Secessionists. Their motto, “Let the artist show his world, the beauty that was born with him, that never was before and never will be again”. Gustav Klimt seems to have had a huge ego, never doubting the value of his talent – and maybe that is what it takes, along with talent of course, to be so very successful.

One of Klimt’s most well known paintings is of Adele Bloch-Bauer, a woman he painted several times. Both Gustav Klimt and Adele Bloch-Bauer died young but their story will live forever in the painting Adele Bloch-Bauer 1, painted in 1907, now commonly known as The Lady in Gold.

At an exhibit of Klimts women in Vienna in 2000, it was most striking, and heartbreaking, that most of the women in the portraits were murdered during the Second World War. When the State of Israel was established in 1948 all Jews were allowed to enter, as is still the case. Every Jew anywhere in the world is welcome to become a citizen. Never again would they have no place to go.

The book The Lady in Gold chronicles the lives of the families whose paths intersected with Klimt, and his many his patrons, through the years of occupation and war, and then the legal battle to prove that the painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer (and others) were indeed stolen from the families – and should be returned.

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