"The Lady in Gold", a portrait considered an unforgettable masterpiece, one of the 20th century's most recognizable paintings, made headlines all over the world when Ronald Lauder bought it for $135 million a century after Klimt, the most famous Austrian painter of his time, completed the society portrait.
Anne-Marie O'Connor, writer for the Washington Post, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, tells the galvanizing story of the Lady in Gold, Adele Bloch-Bauer, a dazzling Viennese Jewish society figure; daughter of the head of one of the largest banks in the Hapsburg Empire, head of the Oriental Railway, whose Orient Express went from Berlin to Constantinople; wife of Ferdinand Bauer, sugar-beet baron.
The Bloch-Bauers were art patrons, and Adele herself was considered a rebel of fin de siècle Vienna (she wanted to be educated, a notion considered “degenerate” in a society that believed women being out in the world went against their feminine "nature"). The author describes how Adele inspired the portrait and how Klimt made more than a hundred sketches of her - simple pencil drawings on thin manila paper.
And O'Connor writes of Klimt himself, son of a failed gold engraver, shunned by arts bureaucrats, called an artistic heretic in his time, a genius in ours. She writes of the Nazis confiscating the portrait of Adele from the Bloch-Bauers' grand palais; of the Austrian government putting the painting on display, stripping Adele's Jewish surname from it so that no clues to her identity (nor any hint of her Jewish origins) would be revealed. Nazi officials called the painting, "The Lady in Gold" and proudly exhibited it in Vienna's Baroque Belvedere Palace, consecrated in the 1930s as a Nazi institution.
The author writes of the painting, inspired by the Byzantine mosaics Klimt had studied in Italy, with their exotic symbols and swirls, the subject an idol in a golden shrine. We see how, 60 years after it was stolen by the Nazis, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer became the subject of a decade-long litigation between the Austrian government and the Bloch-Bauer heirs, how and why the U.S. Supreme Court became involved in the case, and how the Court's decision had profound ramifications in the art world.
In this book listeners will find riveting social history; an illuminating and haunting look at turn-of-the-century Vienna; a brilliant portrait of the evolution of a painter; a masterfully told tale of suspense. And at the heart of it, The Lady in Gold - the shimmering painting, and its equally irresistible subject, the fate of each forever intertwined.
©2012 Anne-Marie O'Connor (P)2012 Tantor
"O'Connor resurrects fascinating individuals and tells a many-faceted, intensely affecting, and profoundly revelatory tale of the inciting power of art and the unending need for justice." (Booklist)
I find stories on art history very appealing. This one is excellent. I recommend this book and plan to listen to it again. At first the person narrating the book put me off. I felt she was cutting her words off. That soon changed and she proved to be the right person to narrate this book. I know my knowledge and appreciation of Gustav Klimt has improved. Also my knowledge of Austrian and German attitudes of this period was eye openning.
It covered so much - the Jewish origins & experience in Vienna, the Viennese artists' involvement in the contemporary art movements of the 20th century, the varied experiences of the different families before, during & even after the Nazi times, & finally the detailed legal issues that brought "The Lady in Gold" portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer to the United States.
Impossible to single out any one - all so rich in "you are there" details.
It was wonderful to dwell in for a whole week to not miss a word.
Having seen the 5 Klimt paintings at the Neue Galerie when they were first exhibited in New York & knowing some of the background, I found the book very special.
It would be bad enough if it were just her uninspired reading of the book - she just races through with no inflection to give life to the story; however, the real failure is her mispronunciation of so many words and names. Didn't it occur to an editor to correct her when, for example, she pronouced "fraulein" as "frow-line" when it's supposed to be "froy-line." Or, even worse, pronouncing the German article "Die" as "dye" rather than "dee." English words get treated badly, too. She apparently has no idea how to correctly say "hegemony." There are, alas, too many other examples to mention.
I would hire a good editor to shape a story and not allow for the off-topic details and the inconsistent presentation of the material (flowery in one area, list of factoids in another, and redundant in spots). The strongest narrative was the last few paragraphs - why wasn't this material rephrased and used at the beginning to draw readers in?
Two words: cohesive narrative
OMG - monotone with an inability to break sections into phrases. Reading aloud is like music, add some dynamics, some change in pitch, use pauses effectively.
For once, I'm trusting Hollywood will do a better job of presenting the story than the book. (And now I'll go look up who the screenwriter is as s/he will deserve an award of some type if they managed to make an intelligible narrative where this book failed.)
This story was absolutely enlightening! I learned so much about Vienna before both world wars. The descriptions of the families, of different religions and how Hitler's annexation of Austria and why so many Jewish families were tragically trapped and murdered. I thought that the story of Klimt's relationships with the lady in gold and the subjects of other of his paintings was an added bonus. So much info very well researched and presented.
I'm sure the title of the book has more people reading it, but it is ironic that the fact that the model was Adele Block-Bauer was intentionally obscured by history, and is then perpetuated by the title of this book, I enjoyed reading about Klimt and his contemporaries, and the struggles of the Bloch-Bauer relatives who never gave up to uphold their rights. It's a sad story about injustices in the world, set against the amazing artwork of Klimt.
Up there, definitely.
This was many stories and introduced new information in an interesting layering and interleaving of private and historical events well. I also learned WWII facts about Austria that is not the usual fare one comes across in the 'proverbial history book' of the holocaust and the Nazi era. The secret life of this family's heirlooms reminded me of The Hare with the Amber Eyes and made me regard my own family's belongings in a different light. Things are so important when they mark our losses.
No doubt audio book narrators love a great story, and it was evident in this recording. Or maybe that's just the art of narrating--we hear the reader's sustained interest as we discover the story along with them. I suppose in this performance the fact that the narrator did not seem to be reading separate stories and kept the story unified helped connect you to the narrative line, or lines, as there were many different shifts in time and place. Coleen Marlo has a superb range and such a rich voice capable of subtle nuances of tone. I like how she does mens' voices.
I found that the narrator fleshed out the females in this story so well that you almost felt you were at their tables, salons, in their landscapes and drawing rooms, and court rooms.
The interesting subject
The narrator's voice is like fingernails on a blackboard to me. At first, I thought there was something wrong with the recording; she reads too quickly and then slows way down. At one point I actually adjusted the speed to see if it would help but it didn't. Also, her over-enunciation is a ridiculous affection. I wasn't sure I was even going to be able to finish to book. I'm very interested in the subject so every day I force myself to focus on the story - not on the narrator but I would have enjoyed it more if I'd just bought the book and read it.
This is a true-life story about the Austrian collusion in Nazi theft of art during WWII, and of its eventual restitution after a heroic battle, some 60+ years later. It is a compelling human drama and an important work.
The narrative suffers slightly from distracting side-tales, and the writing is not seamless.
I found the reading to be too rushed, as if the reader was trying to get through the story as rapidly as possible.
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