Nazi-Looted Gustav Klimt Portrait Debuts at MoMA

Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912). Courtesy of the Neue Galerie.

New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is home to a new masterpiece, thanks to a long-term loan of Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912).

The canvas is one of two formal Klimt portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of wealthy Austrian industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. In contrast to the better known Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907), which shimmers in gold and silver, the later painting, while still emphasizing the model’s height, elegance, and high social station among the Viennese elite, is done in more traditional jewel tones.

The Bloch-Bauers were among the artist’s most important patrons, and owned five of his paintings, as well as 16 Klimt drawings, until their possessions were seized by the Nazis in 1938. The artworks eventually made their way to the Austrian state museum, in accordance with Adele’s wishes, but against those of Ferdinand, who had outlived his wife and bequeathed his entire estate to his nieces and nephews. In 1998, his niece Maria Altmann discovered the truth of his will and set out to recover her inheritance.

After a prolonged legal battle, soon to be the subject of a film starring Helen Mirren (see “Weinsteins’ Nazi-Looted Klimt Restitution Film To Star Helen Mirren“), all five paintings were returned to the Bloch-Bauer heirs in 2006 and put up at auction. Unlike Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was purchased by New York’s Neue Galerie for $135 million, Adele Bloch-Bauer II was sold for $88 million to a private collector.

At the MoMA, Adele Bloch-Bauer II appears in the Alfred H. Barr, Jr. galleries for painting and sculpture alongside contemporaneous works from the museum’s collection by artists such as Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Josef Hoffmann, and Koloman Moser.

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