This is the award-winning story of the gold portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the beautiful Muse who Gustav Klimt painted into history as a sensual Mona Lisa of turn-of-the-century Vienna; its fate under Nazi rule, and the battle that revealed its unknown story of heroism and shimmering genius. It is also the untold story of Gustav Klimt, and his portrait models: the arts patrons and intellectual women who were co-creators of modernism in Vienna. Some were co-creators of modernism in Vienna. Some were romantically linked to Klimt. One may have been his daughter. Their lives unfolded in the glamorous Vienna of Sigmund Freud, Mark Twain, Hedy Lamarr and Billy Wilder, a lost world that ended with the arrival of Hitler. For years this story languished in obscurity, until the battle to recover Klimt paintings stolen by the Nazis brought these stories to light, along with a rich trove of lost letters and journals about life with Gustav Klimt.
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Adele Bloch-Bauer, the model of the gold portrait by Gustav Klimt. She was a friend of the artists, and may also have been his lover.
Gustav Klimt, the maverick genius, was a sex symbol in his prime. Born into a poor family, he rose by his talent. He was handsome. His erotic drawings were notorious. Alma Mahler fantasized about surrendering to him. He was romantically linked to a number of portrait models, among them Adele Bloch-Bauer and Serena Lederer.
Maria Altmann was born Maria Bloch-Bauer, the daughter of Therese Bloch-Bauer, whose sister was the Klimt model Adele Bloch-Bauer. Maria, a Vienna debutante, had more conventional aspirations than her famous aunt Adele. She was a soft, sheltered society girl when Hitler marched into Vienna.
Luise Bloch-Bauer was Maria's older, more sophisticated sister, and one of the most sought-after girls in Vienna. Her wit, style and poise were legendary. Luise would marry Baron Viktor Gutmann, the handsome scion of a great clan that may have inspired Johan Strauss's "Gypsy Baron."
Nelly was Luise's daughter, an extremely intelligent girl born into high society who greatly admired her pediatrician, Gertrude Bien, the first woman to graduate from the Vienna medical school. Nelly would struggle to survive the Holocaust in Yugoslavia.
Serena Lederer was born Serena Pulitzer, one of the Pulitzer sisters; the model of a Klimt portrait, and romantically linked to Klimt. Her mother, Charlotte Pulitzer, a cousin of Joseph Pulitzer, also modeled for a Klimt portrait, which was stolen during the war and never resurfaced. Serena and her sisters, Jenny and Aranka, would all have their daughters painted by Klimt.
Elisabeth Bachofen-Echt, the model for this Klimt portrait, my have been Klimt's daughter. Her mother, Serena Lederer, was a very important collector of Klimt and other modernists, as were her sisters, who were cousins of Joseph Pulitzer. Elisabeth would be trapped in Vienna during the war, and this portrait would be stolen.
Baron Viktor Gutmann married the beautiful Luise Bloch-Bauer in an elaborate society wedding. Gutmann's grandfather was made a Jewish baron by Emperor Franz Josef for building a train line in Yugoslavia, the seat of the family business empire. Gutmann remained in Yugoslavia with his wife Luise, daughter Nelly, and son Franz, even as Hitler grew closer.