The world knows Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) as a symbolist painter par excellence and a notable member of the Vienna Secession movement. Those with a keen interest in Klimt's artwork also know of his Lothario ways, and for most part, it makes the man more interesting. You can also argue that it (somewhat) explains his bias for nude and what were deemed at the time to be 'radical' and 'pornographic' portraits. The Woman in Gold – or more accurately, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I – is not one of Klimt's more controversial works of art, but it is his most famous work from his 'Golden Phase', which has been discussed in detail below. 

British film director of the Oscar nominated My Week with Marilyn fame was inspired to make Woman in Gold after watching a BBC documentary on Altmann. Released in April 2015, the movie stars Dame Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann and Ryan Reynolds as Randol Schoenberg. The courtroom drama elicited interest in Altmann’s story among cinema-goers; here are some interesting facts surrounding the battle to get the Klimt paintings back. 

• Randol Schoenberg was Altmann’ family friend who quit his job to focus on the case full-time. After the first year, he became partner at a law firm that paid him a salary and the freedom to pursue the paintings. 
• Altmann’s case eventually went to the U.S Supreme Court. Her fight lasted eight years, from 1998 to 2006.
• While the movie portrays Altmann’s determination to regain what is rightfully hers, art critics have criticized her for cashing in on the paintings only for personal financial gains. 

Who was Adele Bloch-Bauer?

Adele Bloch-Bauer was a 22-year old Viennese Jewish socialite married to sugar industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. The voracious reader and self-taught woman championed for women’s equal voting rights, social reform and workers’ education. Physically fragile and intensely moody, Adele used her wealth and social status to mingle with some of Vienna’s most celebrated intellectuals, musicians and artists. 

The painting was commissioned by her husband for a fee of 4,000 crowns, a princely sum at the time. Work on the painting began in the winter of 1903, when a young Adele got up, close and personal with Klimt’s bold and breathtaking artistic vision. 

Klimt’s studio was his exploratory playground that drew women like bees to nectar, eager to pose in the nude, in hetero- or homoerotic scenes, or masturbate in front of him. These models were paid a fee for their services, but money was not a sole motivator; they were attracted to Klimt’s animal magnetism and often indulged in love-making sessions without inhibitions. It was into this vortex of sexual energy that a wealthy, nubile Adele was thrust, where she would spend hours alone with the artist over a period of four years until the completion of the painting in 1907. 

There are divergent views on the possibility of an affair between Adele and Klimt. On this subject, Maria Altmann has said that her mother described the relationship between the two as an ‘intellectual friendship”, which - during that time - could very well be construed as an affair! What remains clear, however, is the erotic quality of the painting that reveals more than what meets the eye.

Mood, Influence and Erotica
1. In the painting, Adele’s expression can be described as sensuous, melancholy and wistful. She is shrouded in dazzling gold leaf into which she appears to merge, her dark black hair offering a striking contrast to the luminous yellow. Upon her request, her hands are positioned to conceal a crooked finger on her right hand. 

2. Erotic codes manifest in the fabric of her dress. The split ellipses represent the vulva while the vertical lozenges symbolize the phallus. The mood created is that of youthful sensuality and dreamy lust. The painting is a compelling coming together of abstract geometric patterns and realistic portrayal. 

3. During the time that the painting was envisioned and created (Klimt made over 100 sketches of Adele in the preparatory stages), he visited the sixth century Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. The brilliantly colorful and decorative Byzantine mosaics of the Empress Theodora impressed him immensely. He incorporated jeweled areas resembling semi-precious stones and layers of radiant gold and silver. 

Death, Annexation and Lawsuit

Seven years after Klimt’s death, Adele succumbed to meningitis in 1925, at the age of 43. The painting was housed in the family’s Vienna townhouse until the Nazi annexation in 1938 when it was stolen and later hung at the Vienna’s Belvedere Gallery. In 1998, after the Austrian government passed a restitution law establishing that property stolen by the Nazis could be claimed by their rightful owners, Adele’s niece Maria Altmann filed a lawsuit to regain ownership of the Klimt paintings. 

Represented by young lawyer Randol Schoenberg, Altmann was successful in suing Austrian authorities in American court and obtaining a ruling that Adele’s wish to leave the paintings to the Belvedere Museum were superseded by her husband’s (who was the legal owner of the artwork) will that named his nieces as heirs. In 2006, Altmann sold Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I to Ronald Lauder for New York City’s Neue Galerie, which has since been on display. At $135 million, it is one of the highest prices ever paid for a painting. The sale was brokered by Christie’s. 
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