I saw the film Woman in Gold recently, a true story starring Helen Mirren as an octogenarian Austrian Holocaust survivor seeking to reclaim her aunt’s famous portrait. The title painting, called “Woman in Gold” for many years so as not to name her aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer, and to obscure her Jewish heritage, is now so well-known it is featured on fridge magnets and mugs.

I visited this painting and other Gustav Klimt works in Vienna’s Belvedere Palace Museum many years ago, lingering in front of my favorite works for what seemed like hours. At the time, I was obsessed with his protégé Egon Schiele and his early, untimely death from the Spanish flu at the age of 28 in 1918. Besides the music, Freud’s house, coffee and cakes, these paintings were what I wanted to see in Vienna.

A recent trip to New York City required a visit to one of my best-loved museums, the Neue Galerie which specializes in German and Austrian works of art. This Gallery figures in the film because it is where “Woman in Gold” now resides. Spoiler alert: Mirren’s Maria Altmann character wins the art reclamation case, with the help of Randol (Randy) Schoenberg, a young lawyer who just happens to be the grandson of the Austrian composer and painter Arnold Schoenberg.

The film is a bit schmaltzy in parts, but I was into the story, the history and the portrayal, in flashbacks, of Viennese culture before and during WWII. On my recent visit to the Neue Galerie, the main attraction was an Egon Schiele exhibit with his haunting, raw and mildly disturbing oeuvres, so it was a breath of fresh air to visit Adele, like a fancy cupcake at the end of a tasty but unsettling meal. There is something so stunning about her face, and the choker necklace she is wearing plays a large role in the film.

We finished off the visit on that cold February day, with a wonderful cafe and strudel in the popular museum Cafe Sabarsky. I love it when literature, art and travel collide and seeing this film reignited my interest in the Vienna Secessionist period. The Secession artists objected to the prevailing conservatism of the time in late 19th century Vienna. Their motto was: To every age its art. To every art its freedom, and much like Sigmund Freud, their contemporary, they were concerned with creating their own less rigid movement, not shackled by the confines of tradition. Joanna Scott’s 2004 novel Arrogance about Schiele’s short, and infamous life is a great read if you are interested in delving into the period.

Filed Under Books, Cafe, Culture, Europe, Films, Manhattan, Museum, New York, WWII, art


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