Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Lady In Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor

The Austrian Mona Lisa (Art and History)

The Lady In Gold by Anne-Marie O’Connor is a fascinating account of a painting, the artist who created this masterpiece, and the family it belonged to.  It’s about the Nazi theft of the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I and the fight to get it back to the family years later.  History telling at its finest, this historical novel effortlessly moves along exploring the events and people who were involved in the journey of this extraordinary painting of a Viennese high-society woman elegantly wrapped in dazzling gold leaf on canvas by Gustav Klimt.

This book was informative and riveting.  I practically held my
Adele Bloch-Bauer II, ,1912
breath in horror and suspense almost the entire section on WWII. I found myself biting my nails as the fates of the family and friends of the Bloch-Bauers were revealed.  Knowing about the lives and times of the people in a painting as well as the owners brought art appreciation to the next level.  It created a deeper connection beyond aesthetical pleasure; it’s like watching a flat, one-dimensional image plump up, walk off the canvas, and whisper all her secrets to you.

While this book seems to have a cast of dozens, each one is a supporting character that stiches the whole tale together.  If you’re like me, you may want to take notes to keep track of everyone; it’s well worth the effort—especially when you take the time to look up Klimt’s paintings.

The Lady In Gold is a captivating, intelligent, important work.  I highly recommend it.

If you liked this book, you may also want to consider Portrait of Dr. Gachet by Cynthia Saltzman.  In this non-fiction book, Saltzman follows the hundred-year journey of one of Vincent van Gogh’s last paintings, the Portrait of Dr. Gachet as it changes ownership over the years until we reach the auction where it sold for a record-breaking price of $82.5 million in 1990. 

If you prefer to stick to historical fictions on artists and their works, check out the following books:  Frida by Barbara Mujica; I Am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto, Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland, and The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan.

On April 3, 2015, the movie Woman in Gold will be released starring Helen Mirren as Maria (Bloch-Bauer) Altmann, Adele’s niece, who fights to legally get the family’s Klimt paintings back.  While the movie is not based on the book, The Lady In Gold, it is, of course, based on the real legal battle to have Klimt’s masterpiece returned to the rightful owners.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the movie.  But I still recommend reading The Lady In Gold first as it divulges so much history and background that cannot be covered in a two-hour film.  In fact, the trial on which the movie is based takes up a very small portion of the book, The Lady In Gold

The Lady In Gold met several of my 2015 Book Challenges: Read an historical novel; Read a book about art; Read a book with a war setting.

Happy Reading,


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  1. This sounds fascinating! By the way, if you like historical fiction about art, you should read Heather Webb's Rodin's Lover. You can read my review of it here

    1. I read your review on Rodn's Lover. Thanks for the review! The book sounds intriguing. I love learning more about artists, and historical fictions are sometimes the most captivating route for insights into their lives.