Gustav Klimt - Adele Bloch-Bauer I

by Alexandra Tuschka

Adele Bloch-Bauer, wife of the 17 years older industrialist Ferdinand Bloch, looks at us abruptly with a light bedroom look from this painting. Only the face, neck, hands and arms are painted realistically, the rest of the surroundings are kept abstract by ornaments and gold. As random as the individual geometric figures and delineations may seem to us, more than 100 drawings by the painter Gustav Klimt testify to an intensive examination of the composition. The pose and position of the model were understandably the artist's main focus.

The result is a square format - not very common in art, but frequently encountered by Klimt - which measures 163 x 163 cm. The painting can be divided mentally into two halves, with the lady then completely in the right part of the picture. The woman has a narrow, long face, an equally long nose, a slightly open mouth and black, upswept hair, which, however, is trimmed by the edge of the picture. The neck is completely covered by a jewelry piece with silver stones and diamonds. The chest area, in turn, is exposed; only two straps hold the expansive dress. The hands are unnaturally intertwined, almost as if one hand is pulling down the other. This, however, allowed the painter to show the body and its composition as self-contained. On one arm some bracelets are recognizable. On closer inspection, we recognize an upholstered armchair with golden spirals, on which "the golden Adele" seems to have taken a seat. This must have had a high backrest, since this appears once again at the top of the central axis. Did she take a seat? As for the posture, the viewer is puzzled. The body seems rather standing and is defined slenderly by a dress, which is filled with ornaments, which remind strongly of the "eye of the providence". Furthermore, a kind of cloak with cut ovals flows around the lady in a flowing and expansive manner. The areas in the background also stand out clearly from one another. For example, the circle behind the model again shows various round elements, and is walled in by small mosaic-like tiles.


The left image space, on the other hand, seems a bit two-dimensional. The gold ground is rhythmized only by two small silver squares at the upper left. In the lower section, a frieze of black and white tiles still divides off a kind of green carpet. This is also where the sweeping ornaments of the mantle protrude.

As is the case for almost all paintings in Klimt's oeuvre, there is a lack of depth, shadows, outlines or light sources here. This work was to be the last of the so-called "golden period." Five years later Klimt painted Adele once again. This may also have been due to the fact that Adele ran a salon where artists and intellectuals liked to hang out. Thus, the contact with the painter seemed to have lasted over the years. In the second portrait, the change in the artist's style is immediately recognizable. This painting became - along with the kiss - a key work of Art Nouveau and the painter. In this case, certainly because of its troubled history.

A recently released motion picture called "The Woman in Gold" is extensively devoted to this story. After Adele Bloch-Bauer's death at the age of 44, she asked her husband in his will to leave the four Klimt paintings of their joint property to the Belvedere in Vienna, where it later hung for decades. However, since Mr. Bloch-Bauer was of Jewish descent, he was expelled in 1938 and fled to Zurich. His works were confiscated by the Nazis. Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer revoked his wife's promise in 1945. She had not had the necessary rights to dispose of the property. On the basis of the will, however, the Republic of Austria considered itself to be in the right.


A change in the law and also the desire to come to terms with the past opened the doors for Maria Altmann, Ferdinand Bloch's niece, to take legal action for the work. She got it back and later sold the work for $135 million. This makes the "Golden Adele" one of the most expensive paintings in the world.


Gustav Klimt - Adele Bloch-Bauer I

Oil, gold leaf on canvas, 1907, 138 x 138 cm, Neue Galerie, New York


Gustav Klimt - Adele Bloch-Bauer II

Oil on canvas, 1912, 190 x 120 cm, private collection

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