By Penelope Steiner. Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), an Austrian Symbolist painter, whose genius has grown exponentially through the ages; an awe-inspiring wizard, an alchemist with a brush; gold leaf enhanced the beauty of his portraits; once exposed to his works one never forgets their metallic magic. In 1907 he was commissioned to paint the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1881-1925), ethereally luminous, an heiress, she anchored the living room of her Viennese mansion until she was ripped from the wall by the Nazis in 1938.
“The Woman in Gold” reigns as one the most famous portrait’s ever created, more stunning than daVinci’s “Mona Lisa” or Goya’s “Naked Maja.” She is aristocratic, daunting, enchanting, unforgettable. She was also Jewish and this is her journey. Simon Curtis’s “Woman in Gold,” follows Maria Altmann’s quest to regain ownership of the portrait of her aunt Adele, anchoring the Viennese collection in the Belvedere palace and museum in Vienna, along with four other Klimt works belonging to her family before the war. Helen Mirren gives a stratospheric performance as adult “Maria” (Tatiana Maslany equally poignant as the young Maria). She is feisty, insouciant, suffers no fools and prevails upon Randol Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), a lawyer, (grandson of composer Arnold Schoenberg), to aid in her quest for what was justifiably hers. “Woman in Gold” depicts the years of vicissitudes, challenges and frustrations that the “power of two” hurdled -- their indomitable fortitude, intoxicating devotion to correcting an injustice perpetrated by the iniquitous, villainous Nazi regime -- Mirren and Reynolds gift both roles with monumental dignity.
Curtis’s flashbacks to Hitler’s promenade into Vienna greeted by a swooning, flag-waving, jubilant crowd -- worshipers, not victims, as they later claimed -- refined, successful, imminently dignified Jewish population. They were razed, ridiculed, slaughtered by the ignorant, indoctrinated disciples of the author of “Mein Kampf.” Harrowing, heartbreaking scenes of Maria’s departure from her beloved parents and home were historically realistic. Stefan Zweig’s “The World of Yesterday” is masterful in describing Vienna, and its halcyon years after WWI; home of Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Max Reinhardt, Theodor Herzl; penultimate city for genius to burgeon. It was a hotbed of Jewish intellectuals; 180,000 thousand Jews in 1938; 8,000 in 1945. “Woman in Gold” is a metaphor for perseverance, a people’s desire and one woman’s intransigence in defeating those whose ancestors fostered their elimination. "The Woman in Gold," Adele, died at the age of 43. Her portrait’s path from an elite familial residence to a sacrosanct room in a private museum took almost a hundred years. Today she looks down on all, from the “huddled masses” to those who would be king.