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October 2016: The Lady in Gold (O'Connor)

posted Oct 24, 2016, 6:01 PM by East Bay Smith Club
On Tuesday, October 11th, seven of us gathered at the home of Mary Ann Campbell to discuss The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O’Connor. The book centers on the story of one extended Jewish family and their attempts to regain artworks that were stolen from them during the Nazi occupation of Austria.  However, in presenting this story, the author provides a lot of detailed information about the cultural and intellectual milieu that flourished turn of the century Vienna, the persecution of the Jewish community in Vienna by the Nazi’s and their Austrian collaborators, and the legal struggles of the survivors to regain what was left of their property.   

This historical detail was fascinating, but it also was a bit overwhelming at times.  It became difficult to keep track of all the people that were mentioned and to remember how they tied back to the family at the heart of the story.   Similarly, the material on Gustav Klimt got a bit lost in the discussion of Vienna’s vibrant artistic community.  Some of us would have appreciated a more narrow focus, if it had allowed us to learn even more about the sources of Klimt’s artistic style and his contributions to the development of modern painting. 

That being said, the book certainly creates a vivid impression of the splendor and value of the Viennese society that was destroyed, and it provides a harrowing and haunting description of that destruction.  Given the richness and importance of that history, it is easy to sympathize with the author’s desire to pack in as much information about as many different people as she could.

--write up by Karen Bardsley