Masterpiece Stories

Lady in Gold: Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt

Zuzanna Stańska 2 July 2017 min Read

This portrait also known as Lady in Gold is one of two formal portraits that Gustav Klimt made of Adele Bloch-Bauer, an important patron of the artist. Adele was the wife of a wealthy industrialist in Vienna where Klimt lived and worked. The portrait was commissioned by her husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a Jewish banker and sugar producer. The composition emphasizes Bloch-Bauer’s social position within Vienna’s cultural elite. Her towering figure, in opulent dress, is set against a jewel-toned backdrop of nearly abstract patterned blocks that suggest a richly decorated domestic interior. Beautiful, isn’t she?

Lady in gold klimt Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, Neue Galerie, New York
Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, Neue Galerie, New York

During the II World War the Nazis took possession of this portrait along with other works of art in the Bloch-Bauer family’s collection. In 2006, after years of legal negotiations, the works were returned to the Bloch-Bauer heirs and subsequently sold to other collections. In November 2006, Christie’s auction house sold the portrait at auction for almost $88 million, the fourth-highest priced piece of art at auction at the time.

Lady in gold klimt Lady in gold klimt Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, 1912, private collection
Lady in gold klimt Lady in gold klimt Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, 1912, private collect

The portrait is the final and most fully representative work of Klimt’s golden phase. It was the first of two depictions of Adele by Klimt – the second was completed in 1912; these were two of several works by the artist that the family owned. Adele died in 1925; her will asked that the artworks by Klimt were to be left to the Galerie Belvedere, although these belonged to Ferdinand, not her.

Adele Bauer was from a wealthy Jewish Viennese family. Her father was a director of the Wiener Bankverein, the seventh largest bank in Austria-Hungary, and the general director of Oriental Railroads. In the late 1890s Adele met Klimt, and may have begun a relationship with him. Opinion is divided on whether Adele and Klimt, who was a famous womanizer had an affair. Some considered that Adele was the only society lady painted by Klimt who is known definitely to be his mistress, but like often in such cases, there are no real evidence for that.

Lady in gold klimt Photograph of Adele Bloch-Bauer
Photograph of Adele Bloch-Bauer

Adele’s parents arranged a marriage with Ferdinand Bloch, a banker and sugar manufacturer; Adele’s older sister had previously married Ferdinand’s older brother. Ferdinand was older than his fiancée and at the time of the marriage in December 1899, she was 18 and he was 35. The couple, who had no children, both changed their surnames to Bloch-Bauer. Socially well-connected, Adele brought together writers, politicians and intellectuals for regular salons at their home.

The couple shared a love of art, and patronised several artists, collecting primarily nineteenth-century Viennese paintings and modern sculpture. Ferdinand also had a passion for neoclassical porcelain, and by 1934 his collection was over 400 pieces and one of the finest in the world.

The history of the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I and the other paintings taken from the Bloch-Bauers has been described in the 2012 book [easyazon_link identifier=”1101873124″ locale=”US” tag=”dailyartdaily-20″]The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer[/easyazon_link], by the journalist Anne-Marie O’Connor which was dramatised in 2015 for the film Woman in Gold starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds.


Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, ca 1766-1833, lacquered gilt wood, Vietnam, Musée Guimet, Paris, France. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Stories: Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara

Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara was donated to the Musée Guimet in 1889 by French archeologist Gustave Dumoutier. It represents the blissful blending of...

James W Singer 3 January 2022

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Peasant Wedding, 1567 Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Story: The Peasant Wedding by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

The Kunsthistorisches Museum, meaning the Museum of Art History, is located in Vienna, Austria. It is the largest art gallery in the country, housing...

Anastasia Manioudaki 19 December 2021

Kūka’ilimoku, ca 1795-1822, ʻŌhiʻa lehua Wood, Kawaihae, Hawai’i, British Museum, London, UK. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Masterpiece Stories: Kūka’ilimoku

Kūka’ilimoku is a masterpiece of Hawaiian art. It is an artistic icon of Hawai’i, Polynesia, and Oceania. With so little Oceanic art displayed...

James W Singer 9 December 2021

Striding Lion, 604-562 BCE, glazed clay bricks, Processional Way, Babylon, Iraq, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria. Detail. Masterpiece Stories

Striding Lion from the Ishtar Gate

Striding Lion is a masterpiece of Mesopotamian art through its monumental size and composition. It symbolizes the strength of King Nebuchadnezzar II...

James W Singer 19 December 2021