Reporter Anne-Marie O’Connor uses the iconic gold portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer to engage us in the exciting cultural life of fin-de-siecle Vienna, where wealthy...

Reporter Anne-Marie O’Connor uses the iconic gold portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer to engage us in the exciting cultural life of fin-de-siecle Vienna, where wealthy Jewish patrons supported the work of ground-breaking artists, lived in grand homes on the famous Ringstrasse, and thought life was good and they were valued as Austrians. With O’Connor’s background in art and her skills of investigative reporting, we come to know the people who turn the art world upside down during the last years of the Empire. Klimt, rock star artist of his era, is in great demand. Her family treasured his portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, and the Austrians came to regard it as their Mona Lisa. Adele Bloch-Bauer, as O’Connor explains, was different. This wealthy Jewish woman hosted “Red Saturdays” at home, salons in which she voiced her opinions on the issues of the day, eager to implement reforms to improve workers’ lives. O’Connor characterizes her as “an unfinished woman,” for she died at 43. Wishing to immortalize Klimt, she directed that the portraits and landscapes that she and her husband had in their home be given to the Austrian Gallery. But after Adele died, life changed for Jews in Vienna: in 1938, the Anschluss made Austria part of Nazi Germany. Hitler’s henchmen commandeered Adele’s home and helped themselves to paintings and other works of art. Her family survived, barely. When the war ended, Austria kept the Klimts. When the battle to recover the Klimt portrait resumed in Los Angles in the 1990s, O’Connor interviewed Maria Altmann, niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer, who spearheaded the family’s legal case. Working with Altmann was attorney Randol Schoenberg, grandson of the famed composer and passionate advocate in the battle to recover the painting. Listen to this interview for further details of The Lady in Gold and read the book to learn more.

(See the Artsy page on Klimt; it’s terrific.)

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