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13 February, 2007
The Lady in Gold
As a Gustav Klimt fan, I always thought I had to go to Austria to see Adele Bloch Bauer I, perhaps his most famous painting next to The Kiss. Imagine my excitement when LACMA announced that the painting and four other Klimts were coming to Los Angeles.
Their journey to the United States was an amazing story in itself as I've recounted here. After winning the paintings back, Bloch Bauer heir Maria Altmann generously lent them to the LACMA for public exhibition as a show of appreciation for her adopted hometown.
We saw the paintings on the last week of perhaps the first and only time they will be exhibited together. The line snaked around the Ahmanson Building under the fierce L.A. sun, but D. and I and the rest of the patient throng didn't mind. I amused myself by taking photos of the museum grounds. After an hour's wait, we finally got to the main exhibit hall.
On the center wall was the star of the exhibit, the glorious Adele Bloch Bauer I. Photos don't do her justice: she was stunningly beautiful. As soon as I laid eyes on her I caught my breath: there she sat on her ornate golden chair, gilded with jewels and resplendent in a golden gown with painstakingly detailed Egyptian-inspired motifs. The influence was unmistakably Byzantine, with Klimt weaving his medium of oil, silver and gold to create various textures on the same canvas. It was pure genius.
I stared at her for a long time, from different angles, up close and afar. Adele the person was not a remarkable beauty, but Klimt gave her a msyterious air. In all that opulence, I saw a woman both regal and shy, the unusual position of her hands concealing a deformed finger. It was a striking contrast to the Asian-inspired Adele Bloch Bauer II -- she was the only model Klimt painted twice -- and deserved its reputation as one of Klimt's best from his "golden period".
All of the paintings were larger in size than I expected and collectively showcased Klimt's versatility. The others -- Adele Bloch Bauer II, Apfelbaum I (Apple Tree I), Buchenwald/Birkenwald (Beech Forest/Birch Forest) and Haeuser un Unterach am Attersee (Houses in Unterach on Attersee Lake) -- were masterpieces in their own right, but there's no denying that the Lady in Gold was the belle of the ball.
From the LACMA exhibit, Adele Bloch Bauer I travelled to New York City to reside in the Neue Gallery after billionaire owner Ronald Lauder bought her for $135 million. It was at the time of purchase the highest price paid for a single work of art. After briefly accompanying her to the Neue, the other four paintings were individually auctioned at Christie's for a total price of $192 million.
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