This beautiful painting by Gustav Klimt, “Bauerngarten”, will shortly go on auction at Sotheby’s in London. It’s been appraised at over $56 million dollars, but Sotheby’s expects it to go for much more.
Klimt is one of the most important artists of the late 19th and early 20th century, a leader of the Vienna Secession movement, and revered by Austrians. His primary subject was the female body and some of his work, particularly a ceiling he painted at the University of Vienna, was controversial for being “pornographic”.
Today, all his work is much sought after by both collectors and speculators. In 2006, Oprah Winfrey paid $88 million for “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II”, and last summer sold it to a buyer in China for $150 Million.
In his “golden period”, Klimt used gold leaf in his work, creating some very striking multimedia works, one of the most famous of which is “The Kiss”.
The most iconic work of this period was know for years as “The Woman In Gold”, which took three years to complete. It hung in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna for some sixty years beginning in 1941, and was regarded as one on the great treasures of Austria and a symbol of Austrian culture.
You might notice the resemblance of the subject here to the one in Oprah’s oil painting. It is, of course, the same woman, Adele Bloch-Bauer, and the title of the painting, before the Austrians enshrined it, was “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”. It was commissioned by Klimt’s most important patrons and friends, the Bloch-Bauer family of Vienna.
Adele Bauer was born in Vienna in 1881, the youngest of seven children. Her father was the General Director of the Viennese Bank association and the president of the Orient railway company. She married at eighteen to the 35-year-old Ferdinand Bloch, the son of a Prague sugar producer. He grew the sugar business into an important European industrial concern. Adele’s sister was already married to his brother. They had no children and both couples combined their names to Bloch-Bauer.
Adele made their home a salon for intellectuals and artists, and the Bloch-Bauer patronage contributed greatly to the flourishing of Austrian art in the period. The two Klimt portraits Adele commissioned were a small part of their legacy. Adele died suddenly at age 44 of meningitis.
Shortly after the annexation of Austria by the Nazis in 1938, the Germans barged into the Bloch-Bauer home and took all their possessions, including the Klimts.
Ferdinand fled and died in Zurich in 1945. He had willed the art to his nephew and nieces including Maria Altmann (née Maria Victoria Bloch). Maria married Fredrick “Fritz” Altmann who was taken to Dachau shortly after their honeymoon in 1938 as a hostage to get the Altmanns to transfer their textile factory to the Germans. Maria and Fritz were able to flee with their lives to the U.S. All the property they left behind was taken by Hermann Goering.
Maria became a naturalized citizen in 1945 and worked in the clothing industry. Fritz died in 1954. The story of how Maria was able to reclaim ownership of the Klimts, despite the determined efforts of the Austrians not to return them, is told in the film, “Woman in Gold”. Check it out on Netflix.
Both the Klimt portraits of Adele are currently on display at the Neue Galerie on Fifth Ave. at 86th in NYC. They’ll be there until September when the oil will go to its new owner in China. You have a few months to see them together. See you at the Neue.