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Friday, February 3, 2017

Stolen Beauty: Two Women Associated With A Famous Klimt Painting

This is a review that I wrote for Flying High Reviews that I decided to copy here without the blog tour content.  I also added a paragraph about how I feel about  Gustav Klimt who is a major character in this novel.
 
 I'm interested in art history, and there was a Klimt shaped hole in my art education.   The only thing I knew about Austrian artist Gustav Klimt was that he painted The Woman in Gold.   Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese takes the perspective of two real women.  One is Adele Bloch-Bauer, a prominent art patron.   The Woman in Gold is a portrait of her, but she also had an ongoing relationship with Klimt.   The other perspective is that of her niece, Maria Altmann, who eventually sued Austria to regain her family's ownership of The Woman in Gold.  There are a number of non-fiction accounts of this well-known case, but I love the immediacy of  skilfully written historical fiction.   So I joined the Stolen Beauty blog tour and received an ARC from the publisher via Net Galley.

                                     


Although I learned a great deal about Klimt from this book, I am going to focus on the women for Flying High Reviews.  I was more interested in Adele's narrative than Maria's.  Both were courageous women, but Adele was more complex.

I noted that Adele gave up on becoming an artist as a child because she wasn't being taught to draw human beings.   She didn't realize it, but this issue had held back woman artists for centuries.   Women weren't allowed to learn human anatomy because it would empower them sexually as well as artistically.  Society was invested in keeping women ignorant of men's bodies as well as their own.

I was also interested in the fact that Adele chose to marry a man who promised her freedom.   That was her priority in the selection of a husband--not love, attractiveness or wealth.   He certainly had wealth, but her own family was wealthy.   She was accustomed to always having whatever she needed, yet her strict mother made her feel very constrained.  She couldn't go where she pleased or follow her interests.   So she married for independence, and for the most part she got it.   She met artists, musicians, writers and intellectuals.  She founded her own salon to discuss the issues of the day.  She also founded an art museum and selected its collection.  The Woman in Gold made her prominent and admired.

Adele tried to instill the importance of independence in her niece, Maria.   Maria grew to adulthood in a world that was very different from Adele's.   Adele's influence turned out to be a significant source of strength that allowed Maria to survive WWII.

Adele's family was Jewish, but religion was largely irrelevant to her.  She grew up in a completely secular home.  Adele encountered anti-semitism, but it never impacted her life very much.   Maria, on the other hand, lived to see the rise of Nazi Germany and the invasion of Austria.    Her uncle's collection of Klimts disappeared when the Nazis looted the art of Jewish families. 

This brings me to Maria's litigation with Austria.  I admit that I originally wasn't sympathetic to Maria's point of view, and I found the case that her lawyer made troubling from a feminist perspective.  Yet I eventually came around to the argument that Austria shouldn't benefit from Nazi theft.

Now here's the paragraph about Klimt that I promised to add for this blog. Gustav Klimt himself was portrayed as a highly ambivalent and complex character.  I think it's difficult to draw conclusions about what he really believed.  He seemed to like being the subject of controversy.   He was the leader of an artistic movement in Austria called the Secessionists.  I did research about them online after reading the book, and apparently the Secessionists had nothing in common with each other.  They weren't a stylistically coherent movement like the Impressionists, for example.  It seemed to me that Gustav Klimt's student Oscar Kokoschka  was an Expressionist due to his variant use of color.  Klimt himself is considered a Symbolist.   I have to say that when I looked at Klimt's work on various websites, I didn't respond to it emotionally.  I thought that a couple of his paintings were interesting, but I wasn't moved by them.

I was glad to learn about the woman behind the famous Klimt portrait.  It was also important for me to find out more about the Jews of Austria during WWII.  I found Stolen Beauty an enlightening and provocative historical novel. 

                                   


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