SPOILER ALERT! Vital parts of the plot are reveled in the text below.
As a postgraduate student I hardly have the opportunity to indulge myself in a hobby, let alone on a weekday before 10:00pm.
So when I learned the opening day for “Woman in Gold” in Cardiff was the second Friday of our spring recess I booked a 2:30pm ticket. (Talk about spoiling myself!)
Admittedly, this time I had not read the book nor done any pre-screening research like I had for Monuments Men. As a fan of Helen Mirren’s work I wanted to be awed by her portrayal of Maria Altmann and not mentally fact checking until the credits rolled.
Awed I was.
Rather than layout historical facts in a timeline, boring much of the audience, “Woman in Gold” illustrates the importance of these looted objects to their former owners. Ms Altmann fought the Austrian government to return her property not because of its monetary worth, but because of its emotional significance to her life before the Anschluss.
Commissioned by Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, Ms Altmann’s uncle, the portrait was completed by Gustav Klimt in 1907. Adele Bloch-Bauer stands staring outward, her hands clasped close to her chest, her lips slightly parted. She is immortalized in a flowing, patterned gold dress and cloak, wearing a diamond choker.
In a recent article, Ken Johnson of the New York Times called Ms Bloch-Bauer: “a Cassandra-like harbinger of events to come in the 20th century”.
After successfully winning her case against the Austrian government, Ms Altmann brought the portrait of her aunt to United States and sold it to Ronald Lauder for the prior-to-then unprecedented amount of $135 million.
Today the portrait hangs for all the public to enjoy at Mr Lauder’s Neue Galerie in Manhattan.
When the portrait arrived at the Neue Galerie in 2006 Mr Lauder said in a press statement: “This is a wonderful opportunity for people in the United States to see these magnificent paintings, which until this year have never been shown together outside Austria…We are extremely proud to show them at the Neue Galerie, and gratified to see justice done through their being restituted to Maria Altmann and the Bloch-Bauer heirs”.
The Neue Galerie is currently hosting an exhibit highlighting the relationship between Mr Klimt and Ms Bloch-Bauer, one of his most prestigious patrons. The exhibit runs until 7 September 2015 and uses paintings, drawings and photographs to illustrate the era in which the portrait was commissioned.
The search, and struggle for restitution, of other art treasures and cultural objects looted by the Nazis will continue for generations.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Third Reich’s art campaign read, or watch the documentary version of, “The Rape of Europa” by Lynn Nicholas.
Trailer: “The Rape of Europa”