August 06, 2006

Crazy for Klimt

When the Neue Galerie opened in November of 2001, New York City gained a true gem in its cultural crown. Now, with the museum's recent acquisition of Gustav Klimt's masterpiece "Adele Bloch-Bauer I", the Neue Galerie has become a shining star on the international museum stage.

For a limited time, New Yorkers have the rare opportunity to see 5 magnificent Klimt oil paintings together in one room. This breathtaking assemblage of drop dead gorgeous works is further enhanced with an exhibition of drawings and watercolors by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, including preparatory sketches for the paintings on view, from the museum's own collection.

The story of this exhibition reads like a thriller with a happy ending. Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer were wealthy Austrians and patrons of the arts in turn of the century Vienna. Klimt, the leading artist of the day, painted two portraits of Adele, a gold portrait done in 1907 and inspired by the Byzantine mosaics at Ravenna, and a more vividly colored, Impressionist inspired, depiction done in 1912. These 2 portraits, several Klimt landscapes, and the rest of the Bloch-Bauer's earthly possessions were seized by the Nazis in 1938. For many years following World War II, the family's Klimts hung in the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, the property of the Austrian government. In the late 1990's, a new effort was made by the descendents of the Bloch-Bauer family to reclaim their estate, and, after years of court battles on both sides of the Atlantic, the family won. Earlier this year, the surviving niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer, Maria Altmann, was awarded ownership of the long lost treasures. Enter Ronald Lauder, heir to the Estée Lauder cosmetics fortune, co-founder and President of the Neue Galerie and lover of 20th Century German and Austrian art. Realizing that this was a unique chance to acquire one of the greatest paintings of the age, Mr. Lauder made headlines around the world when he paid a staggering $135 million for "Adele Bloch-Bauer I".

This is truly a Win/Win situation - the Bloch-Bauer heirs receive substantial monetary compensation while ensuring that this cultural icon remains a treasured object in public view AND Mr. Lauder acquires the "Mona Lisa" of the Wiener Werkstatte, a work that catapults both he and his museum into the international limelight and enhances both reputations enormously.

I urge you to visit the Neue Galerie to see this remarkable group of paintings before the exhibition closes on September 18. While you're there, treat yourself to lunch or coffee and cake at the superb Café Sabarsky and enjoy a taste of Vienna. If you still have time and energy, take a short walk down Fifth Avenue to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and visit their small but impressive temporary show of drawings and watercolors by Schiele and Klimt from the Scofield Thayer Collection. Finish your day with a look at the Met's sumptuous Gustav Klimt painting "Mäda Primavesi", 1912, and you will have had a perfect afternoon!

P.S. The day after I posted this blog, the New York Times headline read "Returned Klimts to Be Sold at Christies" thereby solving the mystery of what will happen to the 4 Klimts on display at the Neue Galerie that were returned to the Bloch-Bauer heirs and not purchased by Mr. Lauder. Stay tuned - these prices are going to be HUGE!

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