Tag Archives: looted art

A dogged old Austrian Jew and her lawyer fighting the Nazi successor Austrian state

Having just rewatched Helen Mirren as “Elizabeth I,” for which she won many awards, including an Emmy and a Golden Globe, “Woman in Gold” showed her range. With a flawless Viennese accent, as Maria Altmann, Mirren was still a somewhat coquettish old woman with hauteur mixed with insecurity. The unlikely success of her legal struggle to regain Klimt’s portrait of her aunt is intercut with the Anschluss and a harrowing escape from Vienna, her father having stayed on after his brother (the widower of Adele) fled before the Nazis (Hitler himself) was welcomed into Vienna. The cinematic chases was an embellishment, but she and her husband did get their guard to accompany them (to a dentist rather than to an apothecary) and two people were taken away before their delayed plane flew them to Köln.


I’m curious about the diamond necklace in the painting, which Maria’s uncle gave her as a wedding present and which was part of the loot taken by Hermann Goering. His wife wore it in public, but I haven’t been able to find out what happened to it after that, or why Maria did not try to recover it.

The Austrian government fought restitution of the iconic (1903-07) portrait of Adele Adele Bloch-Bauer, and the picture has, since 2006, been on display in NY, (in the Neue Gallerie, having been bought by Ronald Lauder for $135 million. (Klimt’s second (1912) portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, sold for $88 million is on long-term loan to MOMA, so also can be seen in NYC).


I didn’t recognize Moritz Bleibtreu with a beard as Klimt, but recognized Jonathan Pryce (whom I just saw as Cardinal/Chancellor Wolsley in “Wolf Hall”) as Chief Justice Rehnquist and Maureen McGovern as the first US judge to allow a lawsuit against the Austrian government to go forward. Both had juicy cameos. And I guessed correctly that Max Irons (who plays Maria’s husband, Fritz) was the son of Jeremy (also just seen as Leicster in “Elizabeth I”).

As much as I like Mirren, I thought the parts of the film set in the 1920s and 30s were better than the predictable (for movie contests, the outcome was not at all certain for this David and this Goliath!) recent illumination of the court cases.


© 2015, Stephen O. Murray