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Adele Bloch-Bauer

1881 – 1925

by Elana Shapira

“You must gain a feel for quality. When you are able to appreciate the great works of art—of fine art and poetic art—with understanding, you will also be able to evaluate people and judge whether they belong to the worthy or the worthless in quality.” (Czernin, 1999)

Upon becoming acquainted with Adele Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy society woman and hostess of a renowned Viennese Salon at the beginning of the twentieth century, one can easily understand why art and life seemed to blend together in her eyes. She has been eternalized by the famous Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) in two majestic portraits (1907 and 1912), and possibly also in an allegory of the Jewish heroine Judith (1901), displayed in the Austrian Gallery in Vienna. All three paintings are historical witnesses to the significance of Jewish patronage during the Golden Era of fin-de-siècle Vienna.

Adele Bloch-Bauer was born in Vienna on August 9, 1881, the youngest daughter of the seven children of the banker Moritz Bauer (1840–1905) and Jeannette Bauer née Honig (1844–1922). Her father was the general director of the influential Viennese Bank association and the president of the Orient railway company. When she was fifteen her sheltered world was shaken by the early death of her much loved older brother Karl. Presumably it was the trauma of his death that caused her to distance herself from religion. Denied the possibility to study and feeling unhappy at her parents’ house, Adele married relatively young. On December 19, 1899, she married the industrialist Ferdinand Bloch (1864–1945) who was seventeen years her senior. Her marriage followed the marriage of her sister Therese (1874–1961) to Ferdinand’s brother, Dr. Gustav Bloch (1862–1938). Adele and Ferdinand had no children. In 1917, both couples added the wives’ maiden name to the family name: Bloch-Bauer.

Adele Bloch-Bauer gave the impression of a refined mixture of romantic personae: sick and fragile on the one hand and a self-conscious and proud salon lady on the other. Indeed, Bloch-Bauer may have found her rôle models in romantic literature. She studied German, French and English classical literature by herself, at her own initiative. She was delicate, tending to be sick, and gave the impression of someone who suffered. Her narrow face appeared elegant and intellectual as well as arrogant and smug. She was often caught in the unladylike modern habit of smoking. Among the prominent guests in her salon were the composers Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) and Richard Strauss (1864–1949), Alma Mahler-Werfel (1879–1964), the authors Stefan Zweig (1881–1942) and Jakob Wassermann (1873–1934), artists from the circle of Gustav Klimt, actors from the Burgtheater, and after WWI, the Socialists Karl Renner (1870–1950) and Julius Tandler (1869–1936).

In the Summer of 1903, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer asked Klimt to paint his wife’s portrait, intending it as a present for her parents’ anniversary in October. The portrait was exhibited in public only early in 1907. Adele is sitting on a golden throne, the modern icon of a grande dame, the golden starry sky background complementing her rich golden robe. 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. A contemporary critic identified “Judith” as a modern Jewish lady. In a second portrait, dating from 1912, Adele is standing facing the viewer, wearing a fashionable dress. The colorful wallpaper behind her evokes a far-eastern exotic fantasy-world. The rumors about an affair between her and Klimt were never confirmed. In addition to the two portraits of Adele, the Bloch-Bauers also purchased four landscapes and numerous drawings by Klimt. They were both proud of their art collection, which included paintings by famous Austrian artists such as Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1793–1865), Rudolf von Alt (1812–1905) and Emil Jakob Schindler (1842–1892), as well as a valuable collection of Viennese classical porcelain. In 1919, after the couple moved to their new grand palace opposite the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Adele erected a shrine dedicated to Klimt in her chambers. His paintings decorated the walls, while his photo stood on a side table.

In 1918, after the fall of the Austrian-Hungary monarchy, Ferdinand and Adele requested Czech citizenship with the address of their castle “Schloß Jungfern” near Prague. But, their home base remained in Vienna, where Adele continued her role as a salon lady. Julius Tandler, a prominent guest, also became her physician. It was possibly due to his influence that she began to support Socialist causes. In her will, she bequeathed her money to many charities, among them The Society of Children’s Friends. She donated her library to the Viennese Public and Workers’ Library.

On January 24, 1925 Bloch-Bauer died suddenly of meningitis, in Vienna. After her death, the “Klimt Hall” was turned into a “memorial room” for her. In her will she asked her husband to donate Klimt’s paintings to the Austrian Gallery after his death. In 1938, following the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany, the paintings were aryanized. Ferdinand fled to Czechoslovakia and later continued to Zurich, where he died shortly after the end of the war. He is buried beside his wife in Vienna. His last request to recover the Klimt paintings and other artworks from their exquisite collection was not fulfilled in his lifetime. Maria Altmann, Adele’s California-based niece and the family heir, sued the Republic of Austria, demanding that the Klimt paintings be returned to her.

In May 2005 the Republic of Austria and Maria Altmann of Los Angeles agreed to end their litigation in U.S. District Court regarding five Gustav Klimt paintings and to submit the dispute to binding arbitration in Austria. In January 2006 the arbitration resulted in the award of the paintings to Maria Altmann. Soon afterwards, she had them displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In June 2006 the portrait entitled Adele Bloch-Bauer I was purchased for the Neve Galerie in Manhattan by Ronald Lauder for the record sum of 135 million dollars.

In April, 2005 New York District Judge Edward Korman awarded Altmann and several relatives USD 21.8 million from the Swiss Banks Fund. This vast sum was granted because a Swiss bank which Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer appointed as trustee of his sugar refinery in 1938 handed the business to an industrialist with ties to the Nazis in 1939.

Bibliography

Czernin, Hubertus. Die Fälschung. Der Fall Bloch-Bauer. Vienna: 1999; Natter, Tobias G. and Gerbert Frodl, ed. Klimt und die Frauen. Vienna: 2000; Grimberg, Salomon. “Adele. Private love and public betrayal in turn-of-the-century Vienna: a tale hidden in the paintings of Gustav Klimt.” Art & Antiques, Summer Issue (1986): 70–74, 90; email correspondence with Maria Altmann of March 26, April 2, June 22, 2002.

More on: Painting, Socialism
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18 Comments

"Adele Bloch-Bauer gave the impression of a refined mixture of romantic personae: sick and fragile on the one hand and a self-conscious and proud salon lady on the other", Elena your writing is so beautifully precise! I love the quote you used as the opener as well.

"In 1938, following the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany, the paintings were aryanized."

What does that mean? Handed over to non-Jewish people? Tampered with in some way? Please explain.

It's amazing as well as appalling how cruel the Nazis were when it came to looting and stealing the belongings from those who worked so hard to acquire them. Many people died in vain due to this atrocity against them. However, to have a brave woman led by a tenacious lawyer; made the story of Maria Altman a proud and wonderful one. It is disdaining how mankind can be so cruel and separate from one another when it comes to race, religion, sex, or background.

To understand the true Maria Altmann Story it is important to see "Stealing Klimt" (www.stealingklimt.com) which contains some amazing facts that do not make it into the excellent and moving feature film "Woman in Gold" that was inspired by "Stealing Klimt". For example, Maria's husband Fritz was imprisoned in Dachau until his brother handed over the family cashmere factory to Austrian Nazis, and Maria's brother was saved by a step-nephew of Adolf Hitler who Maria's brother had in turn saved during a ski-ing avalanche many years previously - and so many other extraordinary facts set out in "Stealing Klimt" (www.stealingklimt.com) ...

And read the heart wrenching story Lady in Gold. Not Woman in Gold.

to understand the "aryanization of possessions" please read MONUMENTS MEN by edsel. hitler's maniacal vision of the world he was going to make and those eager and willing to help him make it is enough to make you think about resigning from the human race

What happened to Therese Bloch Bauer? As she was also left behind in Austria when Maria escaped....we hear that the father Gustave became ill and died, what happened to Maria's mother Therese?

I wondered the same thing, but all I could learn is she died around 1961, so at least she didn't perish in one of the concentration camps.

It's in the NeueGalerie in Manhattan, not the Neve Galerie.

What happened to her famous diamond necklace?

The necklace was aryanized by Hermann GÌÄå¦ring and given to his second wife Emmy GÌÄå¦ring. Emmy GÌÄå¦ring was born Emma Sonnemann.

Thank you. Does anyone know what happened to it after the War? I'm guessing it was broken up and the stones reset? Or is it hiding in someone's private collection? Curious! Thanks again.

Both of your guess might be correct. Such a beautiful piece and I am sure one of a kind. There is still so much missing and when the last of that generation passes on, some families will never be reunited with their stolen properties. Record were lost or not even kept, all of this is sad but true.

Excuse my ignorance, but was Ms. Bloch-Bauer Jewish? The article does not clearly say except "All three paintings are historical witnesses to the significance of Jewish patronage during the Golden Era of fin-de-siÌÄå¬cle Vienna."

Ms. Bloch-Bauer was Jewish. We apologize for your confusion, as the article does not state that explicitly. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

On page 118 of the catalog that accompanied the Millenium exhibition 'Klimt und die frauen' at the ÌĉÛÒsterreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, from 20 September 2000 to 7 January 2001, Tobias Natter, the catalog co-editor, states that, "Adele Bloch-Bauer died on 24 January 1925. When two days later her corpse was cremated, which was forbidden by the Catholic Church, ..." Interesting bit of ambiguity there!

For quite some time, I have been curious as to the background of this lovely woman. She was depicted in all her splendor. The writer did an excellent job in writing a clear historical background. Excellent work Ms. Shapira, Thank you.

i want to know if adele bloch-bauer was related to bauer-neumark? or newmark?

"Adele Bloch-Bauer's Portrait," 1907 by Gustav Klimt
Full image
Adele Bloch-Bauer's Portrait, 1907 by Gustav Klimt, oil, silver and gold on canvas, 140 × 140 cm (55.1 × 55.1 in).
Courtesy of the Neue Gallery.

How to cite this page

Shapira, Elana. "Adele Bloch-Bauer." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 18, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/bloch-bauer-adele>.

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