The Woman in Gold

For this first Monday of the month, I will tell you a sweet story. Christmas time approaches and I feel wrapped in this merry spirit, while sipping on a warm cinnamon and apple cup of tea, let me narrate to you something that is very familiar to all of us and it starts like this…

Once upon a time, like every good old story, this one also starts with an adventure, a strong friendship and a good heart. If you walk vis-à-vis Central park, direction Uptown at the Upper East Side and just after passing The Met, in roughly two minutes, you will face a long line (no matter how “early” you’ll arrive). People are queuing to get in this German-Austrian Art Museum, the famous “Neue Galerie”. This beautiful, elegantly luxurious, marbled and strictly no photography allowed art utopia was a sweet creation of two friends. Both men enjoyed a close friendship and a great passion for Modern German and Austrian Art. As they grew older, time came for S. Sabarsky to go to a transcendent place and left R. Lauder (from Estée Lauder) to carry on their vision of creating Neue Galerie New York, as a tribute to his friend.

On the second floor, in the main room, hangs the beautiful Adele Bloch-Bauer, with her diamond choker on her neck and her mouth slightly open, she stares at the viewer with her eyes longing to unravel her story and tell you all the things she has seen (oh boy, she has seen plenty!). Her dress is filled with pyramids and eyes, and an ocean of gold is floating. There she is, like an Egyptian pharaohess, travelling through time, ageless, omnipotent and all seeing.
At 138 x 138 cm she travelled a long way. Firstly, started as a commissioned piece by her sugar industrialist husband Ferdinand and took Klimt three years to complete (there were continuous rumours that Gustav and Adele were lovers). Forming part of the Nazis’ cultural looting spree, Adele ended as one of the many paintings taken from the Bloch-Bauer residence. When the Austrian government passed a restitution law in 1998, ruling that property stolen by the Nazis could be returned to its rightful owners, meaning to Maria Altman; Adele’s niece, she began a legal battle to regain the Klimts that belonged to her family. She partnered with lawyer Randol Schoenberg (where you can see the movie “Woman in Gold”) and brought Austria to the United States Supreme Court. An arbitration panel in Vienna would ultimately award Altmann ownership of the paintings. In June 2006 Lauder purchased Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I for $135 million, then the highest price ever paid for a painting, and that’s how she arrived here, in Manhattan’s Neue Galerie.

But the Galerie’s treasures don’t stop here, this abundantly marbled and golden building houses beautiful Leopold Bauer and Hilda Jesser vases, some dating from 1906. A highly aesthetical and minimal Koloman Moser armchair from 1903 and more objects dating from the Jugendstil era. On the third floor the current exhibition “Berlin Metropolis 1918-1933” projects great film selections, with the highlights ‘Berlin symphony of a Metropolis’, ‘Metropolis’ from Fritz Lang and ‘The Prince von Pappenheim’ (it’s a pity they don’t sell pop corn).

“Berlin Metropolis 1918-1933” runs until January 4th, 2016.


Text by Dimitria Markou.

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