August has come to an end! How did your Reading Challenge reading work out this month? There are a lot of great books about art and artists, so I hope you were able to find something you enjoyed.
I had a good reading month. I read Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese. It focuses on women from two different time periods, Adele Bloch-Bauer from the 1900s through the 1920s and her niece, Maria Altmann in the 1940s. Both women live through turbulent times and their stories are heavily influenced by one of Gustav Klimt’s most iconic paintings.
Adele Bloch-Bauer comes from a wealthy family and marries a wealthy, influential man. Despite her many privileges, she longs for more – more freedom, more intellectual stimulation, more passion. Vienna before World War I was second only to Paris for artists and intellectuals and the avant garde movement. Adele became a part of their social circle and, with her husband, became a patron of the arts. Through these circles she met Gustav Klimt who was already creating a stir with his modern paintings. Gustav asked Adele to pose for him and she sat for what became “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer”, a painting rich with symbolism and painstakingly embellished with gold leaf.
Maria was a newlywed when the Nazi’s invaded Austria in 1938. Almost immediately restrictions were imposed on the Jews. Maria and her family debate whether to stay or leave. They were non-practicing Jews and had served Austria loyally for generations, but it didn’t matter; their homes were confiscated, their possessions seized and their rights denied. Bit by bit Maria and her extended family flee, some to England, some to America, some to Canada, leaving everything behind. Not everyone survives – Maria’s parents refuse to leave Vienna – but those that do build new lives far from what they knew before.
One day, decades later, Maria learns that Austria is offering reparations for the art and valuables that were seized during the war to anyone who can prove that they are the rightful owner. Maria realizes she has a claim to the famous portrait of her aunt and begins the uphill battle to have it returned to her family.
You may have seen the movie The Woman in Gold starring Helen Mirren that came out a few years ago and is adapted from this book. The focus of the movie was on Maria’s political battle over the painting, but Stolen Beauty focuses more on Adele’s story and her relationship with Klimt, about Klimt and his various projects plus there is a lot more information about the modern movement in art and architecture which was shaking up the establishment at that time. Maria’s chapters are tense and vivid as the mounting pressure on the Jews becomes unbearable but Adele is the real star of the book. As usual, the book was better than the movie except for one thing – the movie allows you to actually see the painting, it’s size and its remarkable intricacy and detail. And the gold – breathtaking!
Stolen Beauty makes me want to visit Vienna and New York City (where Adele’s portrait now hangs) to see Klimt’s work in person! Highly recommended.
How did you do this month? What did you read for August?