Jun 22, 2018

Art Movies: Woman in Gold

Our recommendation this week is "Woman in Gold". The 2015 film is based on the  real story of the legal battle fought by a Jewish refugee, Maria Altmann, and her lawyer, Randy Schoenberg, to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s portrait of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I. The movie stars Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Bruhl, and Katie Holmes and was scored by Hans Zimmer and Martin Phipps.

Klimt’s ‘The Woman in Gold’ was looted by the Nazis from Altmann’s family home during World War II and eventually found its way into Galerie Belvedere in Vienna. The legal battle in the film is, therefore, between Altmann and the Austrian Government. The film alludes to the issues of art restitution and explores the legal, cultural and emotional considerations of both parties in such claims.  

A still from “Woman in Gold” directed by Simon Curtis, 2015 

Maria Viktoria Bloch-Bauer was born on February 18, 1916, in Vienna. Her uncle Ferdinand and aunt Adele as well as her own family were close to the artists of the Vienna Secession movement established by Gustav Klimt in 1897. Klimt has painted two portraits of Adele when she was 25 years old. One of them is known as “Woman in Gold”. During the World War II the Nazis seized all of Ferdinand’s assets, including this painting which then came into possession of the Austrian National Gallery.

For many years Maria Altman and her lawyer tried to sue the Austrian government, claiming that Ferdinand’s last will was to leave his estate to his nieces and nephews. In the 1990s Austria re-examined its Nazi past and came up with a new law which introduced more transparency into the process of restitution of artworks looted during the Nazi period.

Maria eventually got five Klimt’s artworks including “Woman in gold”. She told that she would never loan them to the Austrian government again.

Reviews of the film are highly flattering with regard to the performances of the star-studded cast. Helen Mirren received a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for her Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role. Reviews and rankings on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes for the film as a whole have been lukewarm (www.rottentomatoes.com/m/woman_in_gold).

Movies like “Woman in Gold”

1. “The Best Offer” (2013). Virgil Oldman is an eccentric genius art-expert who is hired by a young heiress to auction off the large collection of art and antiques left to her by her parents. For some reason, Claire always refuses to be seen in person…

2. “Adam ressurected” (2008). In the aftermath of World War II, a former circus entertainer who was spared from the gas chamber becomes the ringleader at an asylum for Holocaust survivors.

3. “Big eyes” (2014). A drama about the awakening of painter Margaret Keane, her phenomenal success in the 1950s, and the subsequent legal difficulties she had with her husband, who claimed credit for her works in the 1960s.