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July 14: Gustav Klimt’s Jewish Models

July 14, 2014

portrait-of-adele-bloch-bauer-i-3Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, who led the “Secession” movement of painters and architects from Vienna’s conservative art establishment in 1897, was born on the outskirts of Vienna on this date in 1862. Klimt was Catholic, but he had many Jewish patrons and backers and used several Jewish women as models — including Adele Bloch Bauer, pictured here. She was the wife of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer,an industrialist who sponsored the arts and supported Klimt. Adele Bloch-Bauer was the only model known to be painted twice by the artist. Both portraits were seized by the Nazis during World War II, and it took a lengthy court battle to force the Austrian museum where they hung after the war to return them to the family. In 2006, five Klimt paintings were returned to Maria Altmann, a niece of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, who sold the golden portrait of her aunt at auction for almost $88 million.

“The fervent movement of erotic symbols such as triangles, eggs, eyes, in the flow of her gown hints at an intimate relationship between the artist and his model. Another indication of their relationship can be found in Klimt’s 1901 portrayal of ‘Judith’ as a femme fatale, in which Adele is presumably recognized through her similarities in facial features and flashy neck-band to the subject in the later painting.... The rumors about an affair between her and Klimt were never confirmed.” —Elana Shapira, Jewish Women’s Archive