Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
Measures: 138 x 138 cm
Technique: Oil on canvas
Depository: Neue Galerie New York
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is a 1907 painting by Gustav Klimt. According to press reports it was sold for US$135 million to Ronald Lauder for his Neue Galerie in New York City in June 2006, which made it at that time the List of most expensive paintings|most expensive painting for about 4 months. It has been on display at the gallery since July 2006.
Klimt took three years to complete the painting. It measures 138 x 138 cm and is made of oil and gold on canvas, showing elaborate and complex ornamentation as seen in the Jugendstil style. Klimt was a member of the Vienna Secession, a group of artists that broke away from the traditional way of painting. The picture was painted in Vienna and commissioned by Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer.Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer was born Ferdinand Bloch, the son of David Bloch (also known as Abraham Bloch), a banker and sugar factory owner, and his wife Marie, née Straschnow. Ferdinand married Adele Bauer, the daughter of Moritz Bauer (director of the Vienna bank Wiener Bankverein) and his wife Jeanette, née Honig. When Ferdinand married Adele, both adopted the surname Bloch-Bauer. As a wealthy industrialist who had made his fortune in the sugar industry, he sponsored the arts and favored and supported Gustav Klimt. Adele Bloch-BauerHer name is pronounced as in German language|German. became the only model who was painted twice by Klimt when he completed a second picture of her, Adele Bloch-Bauer II, in 1912.
Ownership of the painting
Adele Bloch-Bauer, in her will, asked her husband to donate the Klimt paintings to the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere|Austrian State Gallery upon his death. She died in 1925 from meningitis. When the Nazis took over Austria, her widowed husband had to flee to Switzerland. His property, including the Klimt paintings, was confiscated. In his 1945 testament, Bloch-Bauer designated his nephew and nieces, including Maria Altmann, as the inheritors of his estate. As Bloch-Bauer's pictures had remained in Austria, the government took the position that the testament of Adele Bloch-Bauer had determined that these pictures were to stay there. After a protracted court battle in the United States and in Austria (see Republic of Austria v. Altmann), binding arbitration by the Austrian court established in 2006 that Maria Altmann was the rightful owner of this and four other paintings by Klimt. After the pictures were sent to America, they were on display in Los Angeles in 2006 before the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was sold to Lauder in June 2006. New York's Neue Galerie is reported to have paid $135 million for the fifth looted Klimt portrait, Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Originally, the four additional works by Klimt were included in the exhibition. The painting is the centerpiece of Ronald Lauder’s collection, Neue Galerie in New York. Lauder’s comment on the acquisition for his Neue Gallerie collection: “This is our Mona Lisa”. However, in November 2006, Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912) was sold at auction at Christie's in New York fetching almost $88m. In total the four remaining paintings sold for $192.7 million and the proceeds were divided up among several heirs. The buyers of those paintings remain anonymous. The wish of Maria Altmann that the paintings should be accessible to the general public in a museum has not been fulfilled. Some factions of the art world called Ms. Altmann's decision to sell all of the restituted paintings greedy. New York Times chief art critic Michael Kimmelman accused her of "cashing in," and thus transforming a "story about justice and redemption after the Holocaust" into "yet another tale of the crazy, intoxicating art market." Kimmelman argued that the family should give the works away, perhaps giving them to public institutions.
Maria Altmann's story has been recounted in three documentary films. Adele's Wish by filmmaker Terrence Turner, who is the husband of Altmann's great-niece, was released in 2008. Adele's Wish featured interviews with Altmann, her lawyer, E. Randol Schoenberg and leading experts from around the world. Altmann's story was also the subject of the documentary Stealing Klimt, which was released in 2007. That movie also featured interviews with Altmann, Schoenberg, and others who were closely involved with the story. The piece was also featured in the 2006 documentary The Rape of Europa, which dealt with the massive theft of art in Europe by the Nazi Government during World War II.