Author: Anne-Marie O'Connor
My Rating: 5 out of 5
I did this the wrong way. I have been to Vienna and seen Klimt’s work in the Kunsthistoriches Museum. I have been to the Neue Galerie in New York City. I have always marveled at his masterpieces and admired the venues that displayed them. Never did I ever realize the deep and far reaching impact of his art and the people whose lives it touched until I read The Lady in Gold. I wish I had read this book before my travels, and now I want to revisit these places with a new sense of understanding.
This book contextualized the power of art for me in an entirely new way. Set against the historical context of Vienna prior to the World Wars, O’Connor tells the story of a painting, its creator, its subject, and its journey through decades of tragedy and turmoil. This book clearly explains what we know to be fact about Gustav Klimt’s experience as a Secession painter in Vienna as well as the story of Adele Bloch-Bauer, who sat for the portrait. O’Connor captures the spirit of the times, the independent world views and unique circumstances surrounding Adele, and the family that she was born into. However, the book is about the painting and the lives surrounding it, not just its creator and muse. O’Connor traces the impact of Hitler and World War II on Bloch-Bauer’s family, friends, and descendants. The gut wrenching details of nieces and sisters being subjected to house arrest and rape, husbands and nephews sent to concentration camps, riots in the streets, and the looting that occurred were horrifying. That the painting and the war touched so many people and connected so many people to one another over the years was staggering. One by one, loved ones are picked off by the Nazis, by illness, by broken hearts and weary bodies. And the painting remains a common thread and symbol of the disparities in history and the importance of owning up to the truth and ownership even as recently as the last 10 years.
O’Connor weaves the story together in a way that is engaging, engrossing, and clear so you always have a point of reference and context for the events she outlines. Every reference is well researched and often cross referenced with eye witness accounts, letters, photos, and content from the archives. I would recommend this book not just for art lovers but for anyone interested in a tale of what it meant to be Jewish and to suffer through one of the most cruel periods of history…and for a demonstration of how perseverance is needed even in modern times to stop the perpetuation of racism and evil. This painting is not just a remarkable work of art. It is a symbol of a remarkable woman, and artist, and a network of souls who endured much more than one can describe.