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.
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
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.
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.
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.