A second painting of Adele Bloch-Bauer joins the museum’s renowned portrait in gold: here, she appears as a wavy column of white and periwinkle, her body almost indistinguishable from the wild background of rose, jade, and violet. It’s one of nearly a dozen portraits of women by Klimt on view, ranging from the small, lovely “Girl in the Foliage,” made around 1896, whose greenery is rendered via impressionistic blots, to an unfinished, flower-bedecked, full-length portrait of Ria Munk, painted years after the young woman’s suicide. There is a bit of schlag on top of the strudel: the Shanghai-based fashion designer Han Feng has designed silk dresses in the manner of Klimt’s muse Emilie Flöge, and one gallery resonates with oompah-pah waltzes (the playlist is drawn from a 1909 Vienna ball, for which you’ll find a dance card in a vitrine). Other supplementary material is just as appealing, notably a necklace by the Wiener Werkstätte designer Koloman Moser, which Klimt bought for Flöge, and glam clutches and purses by Josef Hoffmann, made of gold-embossed leather.
Neue Galerie New York will open "Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900-1918," an exhibition that examines the artist’s sensual portraits of women as the embodiment of fin-de-siècle Vienna. The show is organized by Klimt scholar Dr. Tobias G. Natter, author of numerous publications about Gustav Klimt and the art of Vienna 1900, including the indispensable catalogue raisonnée of Klimt’s paintings, published in 2012. The Neue Galerie is the sole venue for the exhibition, which will be on view through January 16, 2017. The exhibition will include approximately 12 paintings, 40 drawings, 40 works of decorative art, and vintage photographs of Klimt, drawn from public and private collections worldwide. Central to the exhibition will be the display of Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912), which will be shown side-by-side for the first time since 2006. Adele Bloch-Bauer was an important Klimt patron and notably, the only subject the artist ever painted twice in full length.
Though it’s been immortalized in the Helen Mirren film, Woman In Gold, Gustav Klimt’s gilded Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) wasn’t the only major likeness Klimt painted of female clients or patrons during Vienna’s cultural heyday before World War I. This show brings together 12 such compositions, including Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912), which is being shown with its sister for the first time since 2007.
You know that slightly awkward scenario in which you’re a white male modernist painter who’s obsessed with female muses? You tell every beautiful woman in your life how badly you want to paint them — how they are such unique babes! And then you paint them. All of them. Fast forward a century or so after your death, and the portraits of all those bombshells come together for a single, absolutely stunning exhibition. Sort of eyebrow-raising in retrospect, but so it went with the iconic painter Gustav Klimt.
This September, the exhibition “Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900–1918” will bring together 12 paintings, 40 drawings, and 40 works of decorative art, all starring the sensual, dazzling women that, to Klimt, served as the living embodiment of fin-de-siècle Vienna — or at least that was his line.
At the core of the exhibition are two portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the only subject to make it into two of Klimt’s full-length portraits. The pieces, titled “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” (1907) and “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II”(1912), will be displayed side by side in the show for the first time in a decade.
The more famous Bloch-Bauer portrait, also known as “The Woman in Gold,” depicts Adele swallowed in a golden, starry sky that blurs seamlessly into her coat and gown. Gold triangles, eggs and eyes swirl on her garments, alluding to the sensuality and mysticism of the subject.
Klimt captured Bloch-Bauer’s paradoxical nature through his careful rendering, the way she appeared at once full of suffering and yet the very picture of elegance and sophistication. A delicate individual, Bloch-Bauer was constantly battling illnesses that left her weak and fatigued, and was severely impacted by the death of her beloved brother. Yet, as an avant-garde intellectual and director of an artist salon, she remained always the savvy sophisticate, eager to turn her pain into power.
Klimt’s later portrait of Bloch-Bauer, a bit more traditional in style, renders her in a broad-brimmed hat against a floral patterned backdrop, her elongated figure stretched to the point where poise becomes uncanny. Other muses who will make an appearance in the exhibition include Gertha Loew (1902), Mäda Primavesi (1912), Szerena Lederer (1899) and her daughter Elisabeth Lederer (1914–16).
Through the lens of these influential individuals, the exhibit will explore Klimt’s evolving portrait style, as he dipped in and out of movements including fauvism, symbolism and pre-Raphaelite art. Fashion, of course, also plays a major role, as Klimt brought dresses, robes and gowns to life, their patterns proliferating and extended beyond the confines of the clothing they sprung from.
For the Klimt fans of the world, the exhibition is sure to dive into his glimmering world of opulence and eroticism. Personally, I’m hoping it will be the artistic equivalent of a rom-com, in which a bunch of women all find out they’ve been dating the same guy and band together to seek revenge. But even if there’s no supernatural convergence of Klimt muses past, the art will surely be stunning.
“Gustav Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900-1918” runs from Sept. 22, 2016, until Jan. 16, 2017, at Neue Galerie in New York
Gustav Klimt fans can rejoice as New York’s Neue Galerie will be showing the two portraits of Klimt patron and Viennese socialite Adele Bloch-Bauer by the artist in September in “Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900-1918.” The exhibition will open September 22, 2016 and close January 16, 2017.
The Neue Galerie’s Klimt exhibition will feature “approximately 12 paintings, 40 drawings, 40 works of decorative art, and vintage photographs of Klimt, drawn from public and private collections worldwide,” according to the release.
And in an even greater effort to bring to life the artwork, the museum will showcase outfits based off of the work of Emilie Flöge, who designed many of the clothes worn by the women in Klimt’s paintings, a spokesperson for the gallery told the Observer. The recreation will be lead by fashion designer Han Feng and accessories created by paper artist Brett McCormack will accompany the work.
Klimt’s 1907 Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which is commonly known as The Woman in Gold, became the center of an eponymous film starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. The film is based on the true story of Bloch-Bauer’s niece (Mirren) as she enters a legal battle with the Austrian government in pursuit of the paintings, which had been confiscated by the Nazis.
Bloch-Bauer’s niece was given both portraits of her aunt and three landscapes by Klimt after eight years in court. The Woman in Gold was sold to collector and cosmetics baron Ronald Lauder for $135 million in 2006 to be placed in the Neue Galerie, for which he serves as President and co-founder. The lesser known of the two portraits, Adele Bloch-Bauer II, appeared at the Museum of Modern Art in 2014.
Bloch-Bauer is the only woman who appears in two full-length portraits, which is what highlights her as the star of the exhibition. Though the two will be central to the exhibition, she will not be the only lady attracting the eye. Klimt’s portraits of Gertha Loew, Mäda Primavesi, Szerena Lederer, Elisabeth Lederer, and the unfinished “Portrait of Ria Munk III” will also be on display.
The works, ranging in age from 1899 through 1917, outline the ways in which Klimt adjusted his style over time and the great range of influences from which he pulled, including Byzantine art he witnessed during trips to Ravenna, Italy and the work of his protege, Egon Schiele.
Like Gustav Klimt’s most famous subject, Adele Bloch-Bauer (see: The Woman in Gold), the artist’s most crucial supporters were Viennese society women who hosted salons for artists and intellectuals at the turn of the 20th century. As patrons, these wealthy women and their families sponsored and collected Klimt’s work, posed as his muses, and cemented his status as the city’s most in-demand portraitist.
A new exhibit at Neue Galerie New York showcases portraits of six women whose stories are as vivid as Klimt’s pastel brushstrokes. After Ria Munk III committed suicide, when her fiancé called off their engagement, her family commissioned a posthumous portrait that Klimt never finished. A second portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (the only subject Klimt ever painted twice in full length) appears beside her iconic golden portrait for the first time in a decade. Preliminary sketches in a nearby room show Klimt’s attempts to hide Bloch-Bauer’s deformed finger — he draws her right hand into the folds of her yellow gown, or pushes her fingers up against her forehead.
Mannequins placed throughout the exhibit wear dresses made to mimic styles of the era by the Viennese fashion designer Emilie Flöge, another Klimt muse. They wear dresses in loose silhouettes by the Shanghai-based designer Han Feng and ornate paper hats by Brett McCormack.
Click ahead to preview the exhibit. “Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900–1918” opened last Thursday at Neue Galerie New York and will be on view until January 16.
Turns out Adele Bloch-Bauer wasn’t the only golden gal in Gustav Klimt’s life. Though she was the only one he rendered twice, the painter, who liked to go commando under his artist’s smock, depicted a galaxy of well-heeled lovelies.
And his reputation as a Lothario may have saved the life of one of them.
So we learn at the Neue Galerie’s new show, “Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900-1918.” Here, along with both Bloch-Bauer portraits, are three generations of the Pulitzer clan: the imperial Charlotte; her daughter, Szeréna Lederer, and Szeréna’s daughter, Elisabeth.
As curator Tobias Natter tells it, Szeréna was one of the best-dressed women of her day, and among Klimt’s most devoted patrons. The artist dined with her family every week; Elisabeth called him “uncle.”
But in 1938, when the Nazis marched into Austria, Szeréna came forward with a startling claim.
“She wanted to protect her [Jewish] daughter from their racial laws,” Natter says. “She said, ‘This is the daughter of the Aryan painter Klimt.’ ” Since DNA tests had yet to be invented and neither Lederer’s husband nor Klimt was still alive to dispute it, Elisabeth was spared a possible death sentence.
Her portrait is among Klimt’s loveliest. Slender and dark-eyed, she seems, in her white dress, like some ghostly, but gorgeous, apparition afloat against a brilliantly colored, vaguely Asian backdrop.
There are many other beautiful women in this show, their portraits, like “Adele Bauer-Bloch II,” on loan from private collectors. Don’t miss the full-length, life-size one of Mäda Primavesi. She was only 9 when Klimt painted her, but — arms almost defiantly tucked behind her — she has the confidence of someone a decade older.
Displayed with the paintings are jewelry, furniture and dresses from that golden period, the dresses and hats reproduced by contemporary designers based on those made by Klimt’s companion, Emilie Flöge, a woman who knew how to look the other way when she had to.
And then there are the drawings. Whenever Klimt needed a break from painting, Natter says, he’d leave his studio and go next door to sketch the nude women he seemingly kept on retainer.
“If he did one portrait and two landscapes per year, that would have been enough to buy a villa,” Natter muses. Instead, Klimt spent it on women. And we are the richer for it.
“Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age,” through Jan. 16. The Neue Galerie, Fifth Avenue at 86th Street; NeueGalerie.org
The Neue Galerie’s intimately scaled, seductively curated exhibition, Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900-1918, opens with an explosion of wild, Fauvist color — pinkish violets, bottomless blue-blacks, and acid greens sparked with tangerine and sunflower — not to mention the glinting gold-and-silver carpet covering 90 percent of the museum’s standard-bearer, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” (1907).
The exhibition brings together 12 paintings and 40 drawings of women by Gustav Klimt, along with assorted works of decorative art, design, and fashion by way of context. It underscores the fascination that women held for the artist — aside from some early works, they constitute the sole subject of Klimt’s output as a portraitist — at a time when social emancipation and sexual freedom were among the driving forces of modernism.
Klimt’s relationships with women were nothing if not complex. He never married yet maintained a decades-long intimacy with Emilie Louise Flöge, the younger sister of his brother Ernst’s wife, while carrying on innumerable affairs with models — who occupied virtually the same social standing as prostitutes — as well as patrons from the highest echelons of Viennese life. In fact, after the Anschluss, the Hungarian-Jewish mother of Elisabeth Lederer (the subject of one of the more resplendent paintings in the show) put her own reputation on the line and signed an affidavit naming the long-dead Klimt as Elisabeth’s father.
This has been viewed as a ploy to grant Elisabeth a Christian lineage, thereby saving her from the Holocaust. But when Elisabeth was a child, her mother, Szerena, encouraged her to call Klimt “uncle,” and once, in the heat of one of his many arguments with Szerena over the direction of the portrait, the artist shouted, “I shall paint my girl as I like her and that’s the end of it.”
The progress of this particular painting, as described by Elisabeth (quoted in the catalogue by the exhibition’s curator, Klimt scholar Tobias G. Natter), entailed months of “making drawings in various positions,” followed by three years of sittings, over the course of which Klimt “changed his concept over and over again.” But this was his modus operandi, an angst-ridden process that resulted in a surprisingly small number of paintings for such a successful artist (about 250), with many left unfinished at the time of his death in 1918 at the age of 55. Natter writes that after 1900, “when Klimt was at the height of his art, he produced on average just one portrait a year.”
If you fell in love with Maria (Ria) Munk, the subject of Klimt’s “Posthumous Portrait of Ria Munk II” (1917), while she spent the summer at the Met Breuer’s Unfinished exhibition, she’s back for another look — but the charcoal whorls, sketchy lines, blotches of color, and swaths of empty canvas that make up most of her figure are merely the most noticeable symptoms of the quasi-existential state of incompleteness running through Klimt’s work. It is possible, with the exception of the golden lockdown encompassing “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” to view most, if not all, of the other paintings in this show as unfinished in one way or another.
The uncannily contemporary aspect of Klimt’s painting is that it was always in flux, so much so that Elizabeth Lederer, after putting up with the artist as he “changed his concept over and over again,” notes that he “would have changed it once more were it not for my mother who one day seized the picture, loaded it onto the car, and kidnapped it. When he saw it at home he said: ‘Now it is even less her!’”
If many of the post-1910 portraits in the exhibition, with their flat, frontal designs, feel very much of the moment despite the elaborate fin-de-siècle costuming, it’s an impression that could come in part from their stylistic instability — the conflicting passages of color, pattern, and brushwork that would barely hold together in less gifted hands. The difference between these paintings and the more stylistically consistent earlier work is like night and day. The fluffy 1899 portrait of Szerena Lederer (who, with her husband August, were Klimt’s most important patrons, with a family fortune exceeded in Vienna only by that of the Rothschilds) might as well have been painted by Renoir.
The portraits in the main gallery, which date between 1907 and 1917, brim with shivers of tension that are far more subtle than the collisions between the separate realms of naturalism and decoration that characterize works like “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” and “The Dancer” (1917).
A close look at “The Dancer” (ca. 1916-17) reveals not only patently unfinished passages, such as the shoes and the left hand, which are rendered in loosely sketched lines, and the right hand, whose inadequate foreshortening truncates the fingers into stumps, but also stylistic shifts that are apparent only when you isolate them from the painting’s florid overkill.
The vase in the lower left and its daubed green reflection on an orange tabletop could have come from the brush of Matisse, while the flowers in the vase, with their manic repetition of concentric circles, looks like the work of an agitated outsider artist. This ensemble clashes with the sharply geometric zigzags adorning the rug abutted against it; presumably resting on the floor, the pattern is so forceful that it adheres to the picture plane, throwing spatial relationships into chaos. And that’s just one corner of the painting.
Turning to another showstopper, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II” (1912), once your eye strays from the imposing oval of Bloch-Bauer’s black hat, the undulating column of fabric draping her body, her sleep-kissed eyes and parted lips, you begin to notice that the legs are too short to be proportionate with the arms, that the tonal contrast between the light and dark shades of green on the floral backdrop is singularly unattractive, and the paint application, with smears of white haphazardly mixed in with the greens, looks greasy and out of place beside the more refined passages defining Bloch-Bauer’s figure, especially the pearlescent whites, greens, blues, and yellows of her stole.
All this is to say that Klimt had the mesmerizing ability to make a painting work and not work at the same time. By all rights, his pictorial illogic should be a source of irritation, but instead of exasperating over the jagged planar disruptions, jarring color, indecipherable cultural appropriations of Japonisme and Chinoiserie, and abrupt transitions between softly molded forms and flat, abstract patterns, we find ourselves surrendering to their stupendously beautiful decadence.
In the catalogue, Natter quotes Klimt’s 1918 obituary, which cites the many sources that influenced his art:
Japan, China, even Byzantium and other parts of the ancient and modern Orient. Italian Pre-Raphaelite art and the modern English version. French painting of jewels and magic in the style of Moreau, modern Dutch mysticism from the realm of Khnopff, with colonial goods and gods in between. Even if he took from everywhere, he was no means an eclectic. He merely fed on it; he transformed it into Gustav Klimt.
True, Klimt shouldn’t be called eclectic, but his digestion of influences was more fibrous than smooth. That he was able to transform these conflicting forces “into Gustav Klimt” implies a fierce creative intelligence that sallied forth from an authoritative core to grapple with the anxiety of what it means to be modern.
That artistic core — a serene proficiency untroubled by the discord that routinely erupted across the surface of his paintings — is on display in the dozens of drawings that Natter has selected to complete our understanding of Klimt the portraitist. Many are studies for the works in the show, and aside from a few that sink into torpid academicism, all are executed with an unerringly fluid line, trembling across the contours of a form — a hand, a pleated gown, an open, inquiring face — setting it aglow in the gallery’s protectively dim light.
If Klimt’s oeuvre of paintings is relatively paltry, his drawings number in the hundreds. Unlike the canvases, they show no sign of ambivalence or stress, flowing directly from eye and brain to the chalk, charcoal, or pencil he held in his fingers, a communion between artist and sitter.
Klimt’s line embodies a painful vulnerability, like an exposed nerve; its transition to the public forum of paint on canvas, in the teeth of overwhelming social change and the industrial barbarity of World War I, was undoubtable fraught and harrowing, but transfigured into excessive, even ecstatic beauty. It’s there that Klimt meets us on our own turf.
Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900-1918, continues at the Neue Galerie (1048 Fifth Avenue, Upper East Side, Manhattan) through January 16, 2017.
Among the most controversial issues roiling fin-de-siècle Vienna was “Die Frauenfrage,” or “the woman question.” As they were doing in many other cities and nations of Europe and North America, women were challenging a patriarchal society that judged them unworthy of the rights customarily accorded to men.
You would hope that “Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900-1918,” at the Neue Galerie, would delve widely, deeply and fearlessly into this complex topic. But while scholarly essays in the hefty, 320-page catalog do just that, the show itself only partly and obliquely brings out the most interesting issues relating to women and the art of Gustav Klimt.
That said, the 11 life-size portraits at the heart of the show are fascinating to look at and, with help from the catalog, to think about. Among them, naturally, is Klimt’s best known painting, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” (1907), which sold for a record $135 million in 2006, was made more famous last year by the movie “Woman in Gold” and has been on permanent display at the Neue Galerie since 2006.
And yet, portraiture wasn’t Klimt’s main thing. He was primarily an allegorist who folded mythic figures into otherworldly visions of pagan religiosity. During the period covered by this show, he produced an average of only one portrait a year, all of women, and he hewed to a relatively standardized approach, a compromise between tradition and Modernism. In his major portraits, the subject’s head and features are rendered in a more or less conventionally realistic manner while the clothed body and background are painted more freely in styles reminiscent of Impressionism, Symbolism and Fauvism.
While the paintings represent chic, modern women who belong to a world of elegance and luxury, they also have the effect of exoticizing and etherealizing their subjects. As the art historian Jill Lloyd observes in her catalog essay, they seem both women of their time and timeless symbols of femininity, at once contemporary and archaic.
Ms. Lloyd avers that while Klimt’s preoccupation with women in the full range of his art “may well relate to a personal obsession, it also seems likely that Klimt viewed the subject of women as a key to the modernity of his art.” His portraits, she observes, “embody allusions to ‘the women question’ that are far from straightforward to read.” In light of the ways women are represented in popular culture today, these ideas are as relevant now as they were a century ago.
The exhibition, which includes a selection of life drawings as well as numerous pieces of jewelry, decorative objects and furniture designed by Wiener Werkstätte artists like Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, doesn’t go much into Klimt’s personal life. But the catalog does. He was, as Ms. Lloyd puts it, a “serial philanderer.” He never married but is believed to have fathered 14 children by his models and other working-class women. But he also had a lifelong companion and confidante in the dress designer and business woman Emilie Flöge, though whether they were lovers remains a mystery.
Did Klimt suffer from Sigmund Freud’s Madonna-whore complex? Perhaps. In any event, his portraits of actual women are certainly exalting. Unfortunately, none of the explicitly erotic drawings he made of his models masturbating or of couples making love are included in the show for comparison with his more chaste portrait paintings here.
On a more pragmatic level, Klimt had a considerable investment in his few portraits because he depended on their subjects for his income. In his catalog essay, the exhibition’s organizer, the Klimt scholar Tobias G. Natter, explains that after a successful, albeit controversial, career under Austrian state patronage, Klimt renounced governmental support and became the first president of the renegade Vienna Secession. This posed a problem, however, because Vienna lacked the independent dealer and gallery system that artists in Paris and London could rely on. Instead of such a marketplace, Klimt depended on a small circle of wealthy, private patrons. “The more he sought out adventure and distanced himself from his state patrons, the more indispensable the commitment of his private collectors and clients became,” Mr. Natter wrote.
Klimt’s most important sponsor was Szerena Lederer, the subject of one of the exhibition’s more beguiling portraits. Made in 1899, it depicts its 26-year-old subject in a gauzy, glowing white dress against a pale beige background that contrasts sharply with her black hair and clearly defined facial features. The effect is ghostly. Along with her industrialist husband, August Lederer, Szerena would eventually amass the largest collection of Klimt’s work in private hands.
The Lederer’s daughter, Elisabeth, is the subject of another life-size portrait. Made in 1914-16, the portrait shows her swathed in a white, oddly elongated, cocoonlike dress against a blue background decorated with cartoonish Asian figures. Yet another member of the Lederer clan, Szerena’s niece Ria Munk, who committed suicide over a failed love affair at the age of 24 in 1911, is the subject of a posthumous portrait called “The Dancer” (1916-17). She is shown in a richly floral patterned robe open to reveal her bare chest against a background of flowers and Asian figures.
The painting that conveys a spirit of modern femininity best isn’t of a woman but of a 9-year-old girl, Mäda Primavesi. Made in 1912, it depicts her in a white, knee-length dress standing on solidly planted feet with one arm akimbo. Gazing back at the viewer with a calm, forthright expression, she projects a self-assurance that girls often are blessed to own. The painting could serve nicely as a poster for Day of the Girl, which just happened on Tuesday.
After World War II, Primavesi emigrated to Canada, where she founded and headed a convalescent home for children. In 1987, she was in the news for selling a portrait by Klimt of her mother, Eugenia Primavesi, that had been thought lost. When Mäda Primavesi died in 2000, a note in the catalog says, “the last eyewitness to have personally experienced Klimt at the easel passed.”
Vienna did not exist in the fifteenth century when Christine de Pizan wrote her allegorical feminist utopia The Book of the City of Ladies. Four centuries later, the privileged women of fin de siècle Vienna not only supported their city’s culture in their salons where the intelligentsia gathered, they embodied it. New York’s Neue Galerie brings several of them together in Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900-1918.
Unlike his contemporaries Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was ‘less interested’ in self-portraiture than ‘in other people, above all women.’ The Neue‘s exclusive non-traveling exhibit features 12 paintings and 40 drawings by Klimt, along with 40 works of decorative art and photographs of the artist drawn from public and private collections. Further illustrating the exhibit are outfits by artist and designer Hang Feng, and hats and accessories by paper artist Brett McCormack celebrating Klimt and his models’ sophisticated, sensuous style.
It might be hard resisting the temptation of rushing into the main room where the portraits are, but first take notice of the reproduction of the ‘Mosaic of Theodora’ from the Basilica San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. Klimt saw it and applied the Empress’ direct look; her simple yet stylish jewelry and garments, and the details of the room she and her attendants inhabit in his own work – particularly the most celebrated one.
Salon hostess Adele Bloch-Bauer (1881-1925) was the only subject Klimt painted two full-length portraits of, and Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age is the first time in a decade that both are displayed together. Klimt’s 1907 ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,’ also known as ‘The Woman in Gold’ (the Nazis dubbed her this to deny her Jewish heritage but it is now considered a compliment), is the most famous work in the Neue’s permanent collection. Her value goes beyond museum co-founder Ronald Lauder’s successful $135 million auction bid, for Adele symbolizes survival, family devotion and a lost culture. Alongside the description of the paining is one more narrative, detailing how Adele’s niece Maria Altmann sued the Austrian government and reclaimed the portrait the Nazi’s seized upon invading Austria in 1938.
Photos or reproductions cannot do the portrait justice. Neither would a selfie, which is mercifully not possible because of the Neue’s no-photography policy. ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I is a beautiful iconic image depicting its subject as an icon. The pseudo-Byzantine and Egyptian detailing on Adele’s outfit are clearly defined, as she is contentedly enveloped into her gold surroundings.
The ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II’ from 1912 may not have the mythic status of its predecessor, but it is playful. Her head and shawl create the illusion of braids, like the medieval Georgian Queen Tamara in command of the troops behind her. In the small room next to where the portraits are hung are Klimt’s sketches of Adele, with a few proving she knew how to smile.
Regardless of century or medium, portraits of children are tricky. Velázquez‘s look like small adults; Balthus’ are disturbing. Klimt’s ‘Portrait of Mäda Primavesi’ (1912) is neither. Klimt surrounds and decorates the nine-year old with flowers. The daughter of an industrialist/banker and actress (who died at 98) looks like a real kid with a lot of personality.
Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900–1918 is displayed in three rooms, re-creating a salon atmosphere where the Bloch-Bauers entertained Gustav and Alma Mahler, Sigmund Freud and Arthur Schnitzler. Reading about this rarefied atmosphere that celebrated creativity and learning is exciting enough; getting a closer look at it is beyond satisfying.
Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900–1918 is on display through January 16, 201. For further information, visit the gallery’s website here.
Neue Galerie, 1048 5th Avenue (at 86th Street), New York City, NY, USA, +1 212 628 6200