Los Angeles Times
A painting with a rich history
The 92-year-old Klimt portrait is the story of empires, wars -- and victims.
By Edward Serotta, EDWARD SEROTTA is the director of Centropa.org, a
Vienna-based oral history project.
June 22, 2006
NOW THAT Gustav Klimt's iconic portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer will be
its temporary perch in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for a permanent
home in cosmetics magnate Ronald Lauder's Neue Galerie in New York, I have
been thinking of the painting's last place of residence, the Belvedere
Gallery here. For it was in that very building, 92 years ago next week, that
the chain of events that led us to where we are was set into motion.
Back then, the Belvedere was a palace, not a museum Ñ home to the thoroughly
unlikable and gruff Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The archduke was 40 years old
in 1914 and was Austria-Hungary's heir to the throne (as a result of the
suicide of his cousin, Crown Prince Rudolf, at his hunting lodge in
Mayerling in 1889). Franz Ferdinand understood better than many that the
empire ruled by his uncle, the octogenarian Franz Josef, could not last
without serious democratic reforms; he and his shadow Cabinet planned for
the day that they would leave the grand halls of the Belvedere for the even
grander halls of the Hofburg Palace.
But shortly before noon on June 28, when Franz Ferdinand and his wife
out of town, having gone to Sarajevo to observe military maneuvers, a
telephone call came in to the palace with the grim news that both had been
shot and killed. Within hours, those who had been working in the Belvedere
were to pack their bags, return to their homes and watch as World War I
clicked inexorably into place. Millions were to be killed and, at war's end,
the once-great Austro-Hungarian Empire would be divided into a myriad of
In 1918, when the war had ended, Franz Ferdinand's Belvedere became
museum, and quite a good one. (It was the same year, incidentally, that
Klimt, the great Viennese painter, died.) The wife of Viennese sugar magnate
Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer liked the museum so much that she wrote it was her
wish that her husband would someday bequeath the spectacular portrait Klimt
had painted of her to the Belvedere.
When she died in 1925 of meningitis at the age of 43, Adele Bloch-Bauer
of course, no inkling that 13 years later, her husband would flee the
country or that the Nazis (who came to power just two decades after the
collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) would help themselves to the
portrait and four other Klimt paintings. (The 66,000 Austrian Jews who
didn't flee in time were sent to their deaths.) When Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer
died in Switzerland in 1946, he left the Klimts to his brother's three
children, not to those who "inherited" the Nazis ill-gotten gains.
The Belvedere continued to play its role in Austria's history. The Second
Republic of Austria was born there, for the palace was where the Soviets,
the Americans, the French and the British agreed in 1955 to end their
post-World War II occupation of the country. Turned into a museum once
again, Adele Bloch-Bauer's portrait graced one of its galleries.
Austria spent the next three decades lying to itself and the world about
role in the Holocaust. Austrians viewed themselves as the first victim,
believing that because their country had been subsumed into the Third Reich,
one could not blame them for anything that happened during the war.
But when Austrians elected Kurt Waldheim president in 1986, the world
away in disgust. Slowly, Austrian teachers, journalists and historians began
peeling the scales from their countrymen's eyes (much as Germans had done
some decades earlier).
Young people asked their parents and grandparents uncomfortable questions.
Holocaust education began being offered in every school district in the
country. Documentaries on the subject filled the airwaves.
The parliament passed restitution laws that have seen more than $500
paid to the Nazis' victims and their families. Districts throughout Vienna
put up plaques where synagogues once stood.
Which brings us back to Belvedere Palace, Franz Ferdinand's old home.
months ago, after a ruling by an Austrian arbitration board in favor of the
last of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer's living nieces, Klimt's portrait of Adele
Bloch-Bauer (along with the four other paintings) was finally removed from
the Belvedere's walls, and it, like so many Austrian and German Jews in the
1930s, found refuge in California.
Later this month, however, Adele's portrait will move once again, probably
for the last time, to New York. It will hang in a museum on Fifth Avenue
dedicated to German and Austrian expressionism. (It was purchased for $135
million by Lauder, an American Jew, a former U.S. ambassador to Austria and
the museum's founder.)
And in a gallery of exquisite paintings and drawings, all representing
time of intellectual and cultural ferment in Central Europe, one of the
period's most iconic images will take pride of place.
21. Juni 2006
01:20 Bloch-Bauer I und II: Antworten und Hoffnungen
Maria Altmanns Anwalt Schoenberg reagiert auf Vorwrfe von Hannes Androsch -
Leitl hofft weiter auf "Huser in Unterach"
Wien/Los Angeles - E. Randol Schoenberg, Anwalt
von Maria Altmann,
reagierte auf den Vorwurf des Industriellen Hannes Androsch, der gemeint
hatte, dass es den Erben nach Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, an die fnf
Klimt-Gemlde restituiert wurden, "nicht um familires Sentiment, sondern um
das Geschft" gegangen sei: "Die Wahrheit ist, dass es fnf verschiedene
Erben in vier verschiedenen Stdten gibt. Die Gemlde sind derart
unglaublich wertvoll, dass keiner sie zu Hause aufhngen knnte. Die Neue
Galerie war bereit, einen fairen Preis fr die Goldene Adele zu bezahlen und
stellt sie ffentlich aus. Die Erben sind mit dieser Lsung zufrieden. Und
Mr. Androsch wre es wohl auch, wenn er an ihrer Stelle wre." (trenk)
Bloch-Bauer II: Leitl hofft weiter
Los Angeles/Wien - Aus
sterreich hat es "keine ernsthaften Angebote"
einen Ankauf der Goldenen Adele gegeben. Dies sagte der von den
Bloch-Bauer-Erben fr den Verkauf beigezogene Steven Thomas vom Anwaltsbro
Irell & Manella in Los Angeles. Fr den Verkauf der weiteren vier
restituierten Klimt-Bilder wrden Gebote angenommen, es gebe jedoch "keinen
Zeitrahmen". Wirtschaftskammerprsident Christoph Leitl ( VP) hat die
Hoffnung noch nicht aufgegeben, dass Huser in Unterach am Attersee nach
sterreich zurckkehren knnte. Er habe sein Mglichstes dazu beigetragen
und zwischen den Erben und einem potenziellen Sponsor vermittelt. Zuletzt
habe es am 14. Juni diesbezglich Kontakte gegeben. Was daraus entsteht,
werde man sehen. (trenk, APA)
(DER STANDARD, Printausgabe, 21.6.2006)