Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese
I’ve always liked learning the story behind the story. With that in mind there have been several books in the past few years telling us the story behind some of the most famous artists we know. That’s why I was eager to read Stolen Beauty, the story of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the beautiful young woman Gustav Klimt painted in his most famous paintings: The Portrait of Adele in gold, Judith and Kiss. But I think it’s the Portrait of Adele in gold that we would all recognize immediately.
Adele Bloch-Bauer was a young, beautiful, intensely progressive and Jewish woman living in turn of the century Vienna. Adele was living a privileged life but in order to gain the freedom to learn and study the arts she had to leave her father’s house and marry Ferdinand Altmann, a successful businessman willing to give her the freedom she craved. In her new life she meets Gustav Klimt. She is enchanted with him, and he with her. Their secret life may have been secret to them but when Klimt begins to paint her his passion is there for all to see.
Forty years later we are introduced to Adele’s niece Maria Altmann and while the seeds of anti-Semitism are just sprouting throughout Vienna during Adele's time, the Nazis have come to power in Maria's. Those that can leave do, and those not willing to let go or cannot leave, stay. Maria is newly married and her husband is arrested. Maria makes a deal with the devil and with luck and money, she and her husband are allowed to leave but always the safety of the fate of the paintings of Klimt that belong to Adele and Ferdinand Altmann are worried over. The Nazis confiscate the art of Europe and the fate of the Portrait of Adele in gold is in jeopardy.
Stolen Beauty is truly an in depth story behind the story. We travel back and forth between Adele’s life as the central focus and Maria’s life escaping the Nazis and in claiming what is rightfully hers. We learn so much about the woman Gustav Klimt immortalized in his portrait. We are transported to the elite life of Vienna at the turn of the century, to a time when ideas and lives are changing very quickly. We learn more about Adele than Klimt, but that’s as it should be. This is her story, after all.