Weinsteins’ Nazi-Looted Klimt Restitution Film to Star Helen Mirren

"Woman in Gold" will track Maria Altmann's eight-year legal battle with Austria.

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907). Courtesy of the Neue Galerie.

The true story of one Holocaust survivor’s fight to win back her family’s priceless Gustav Klimt paintings will be the subject of the upcoming film Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds, Deadline reports. The based-on-a-true-story drama is being produced by the Weinstein Company, and filming is due to begin in May.

Mirren will play Maria Altmann, an aging Jewish refugee whose aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, famously served as a model for the Austrian symbolist painter. Adele’s husband, Czech sugar magnate Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, owned five paintings by Klimt, including two portraits of his wife.

The movie takes its name from the most famous of the five pictures, a striking 1907 portrait done largely in resplendent gold tones titled Adele Bloch-Bauer I. When Altmann ultimately won her case, the five paintings were estimated to be worth $150 million, making it the most valuable case of restitution of Nazi-looted artwork.

Adele, who died in 1925, requested in her will that the works be donated to the Austrian state museum. Ferdinand, their legal owner, who lived another 20 years, instead bequeathed his estate, including the paintings, to the couple’s nieces and nephews.

However, Nazis stole the paintings, 16 Klimt drawings, and an impressive porcelain collection from the Bloch-Bauer estate during Germany’s 1938 annexation of Austria. After the war, the Austrian government justified keeping the paintings based on the terms of Adele’s will.

Left: Helen Mirren in 2013. Photo by Angela George, Right: Maria Altmann in 2010. Photo by Gregorcollins. Creative Commons <a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en target="_blank" rel="noopener">Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license</em>.

Left: Helen Mirren in 2013. Photo by Angela George. Right: Maria Altmann in 2010. Photo by Gregorcollins. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Altmann, who escaped Europe with her husband after he was held by the Nazis in the Dachau concentration camp in 1938, thought for many years that her aunt and uncle had left their collection to Austria. In 1998, she discovered the truth of her uncle’s will, and set out to reclaim her family’s art.

The film will depict her eight-year legal battle with the Austrian government. After a panel hearing with the Austrian Cultural Ministry returned the drawings and porcelain, but not the paintings, the case was brought to trial in California, as Altmann could not afford the exorbitant legal fees (equal to the value of the items for which restitution was sought) demanded by the Austrian courts.

In the movie, Reynolds will act opposite Mirren as Altmann’s lawyer, who does not know much about art. My Week With Marilyn director Simon Curtis will direct and Daniel Bruhl will appear as the defense attorney. The dispute went all the way to the US Supreme court, before Altmann was granted satisfaction by an arbitration panel in Austria.

Altmann and her family later sold the paintings. New York’s Neue Galerie bought the film’s namesake for $135 million, at the time a record sum. Christie’s auctioned the other four to private collectors for a cumulative $192.7 million. Altmann died in 2011 at age 94.

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