A Matisse Comes Home, With Friends

A view of the “Oasis of Matisse” installation at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, with the horizontal “Parakeet and the Mermaid” cut-out in the center. The exhibition draws on several museum collections to place Matisse’s work in historical context. Credit Photo by Gert Jan van Rooij. 2015 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Pictoright Amsterdam 2014
A view of the “Oasis of Matisse” installation at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, with the horizontal “Parakeet and the Mermaid” cut-out in the center. The exhibition draws on several museum collections to place Matisse’s work in historical context. Credit Photo by Gert Jan van Rooij. 2015 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Pictoright Amsterdam 2014

The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam owns perhaps the most impressive “cut-out” that Henri Matisse created: “The Parakeet and the Mermaid” (1952).

The work on paper, which measures about 12 feet by 25 feet, is a jewel in the museum’s permanent collection, taking pride of place in its Hall of Honor at the top of the grand central stairway.

So when two powerhouse museums, MoMA in New York and the Tate in London, asked to borrow it for their joint exhibition “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs” last year, the Stedelijk’s head of collections, Bart Rutten, saw an opportunity.

Yes, you can borrow it, he said, “as long as it returns with friends” — by which he meant other Matisse works that the Amsterdam museum could use as the basis of its own exhibition.

MoMA and the Tate delivered the “friends”: 10 works from New York, and four from the Tate. It was a good start, and Mr. Rutten managed pull together another 90 or so works borrowed from about 30 other international collections, including the Musée Matisse in Le Cateau-Cambrésis, France; the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Musée Picasso in Paris and Pushkin State Museum in Moscow. Four works in the show — one drawing, a version of Matisse’s limited-edition artist book “Jazz,” the painting “Odalisque” (1920-21) and the cut-out “Parakeet” — come from the Stedelijk’s own collection.

“Woman in Blue,” 1937, by Henri Matisse.  In the Stedelijk exhibition, the work is displayed next to a blue silk skirt that Matisse had designed for the model. Credit 2015 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Pictoright Amsterdam 2014
“Woman in Blue,” 1937, by Henri Matisse. In the Stedelijk exhibition, the work is displayed next to a blue silk skirt that Matisse had designed for the model. Credit 2015 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/Pictoright Amsterdam 2014

The resulting exhibition, “The Oasis of Matisse,” on through Aug. 16, is a retrospective that places the artist in art-historical context and shines a spotlight on his most inventive and popular body of work. For a visitor, the experience is much like meandering through a cheerful carnival before advancing to the giant roller coaster up the hill.

There is much to contemplate and enjoy along the way, but the true exhilaration comes at the end.

It has been more than 60 years since there has been a Matisse show of any magnitude in the Netherlands, and Mr. Rutten felt it was time to present one at the Stedelijk. But how to follow a blockbuster like “Cut-Outs” and at the same time offer a new perspective on a modern master? “I wanted to add something to the conversation,” Mr. Rutten said.

MoMA and the Tate spent six years pulling together 250 cut-outs for their monographic show and had the gravitas of both institutions to leverage loans. The Stedelijk didn’t have quite the same muscle, and Mr. Rutten had only a year and a half to pull it together.

Instead of presenting a monographic show, however, Mr. Rutten decided to intersperse Matisse works with other paintings, drawings and works of decorative art from the Stedelijk’s permanent collection of art and design.

“I realized that our collection display downstairs begins from 1860 and goes to 1955, and Matisse was born in 1869 and died in 1954,” Mr. Rutten said. “I thought, ‘This is his life: It fits in perfectly.”’

The concept, he added, was “to show the multidisciplinary approach of his work — unframe them as a single genre and put them back into the context that they were created in.”

Rachel Esner, assistant professor of the history of modern and contemporary art at the University of Amsterdam, said this curatorial approach marries two current trends in museum practice.

“One is, of course, the blockbuster, the thing big museums do to get in a large public,” she said. “And then you have the other trend which is that museums are putting the focus more on their permanent collections, to enliven them or show them in a different way, not just to get the works known but as a way of stimulating people who may have come to the museums already to come again.”

She adds, “The Stedelijk has done a fantastic job in this case of combining these two trends.”

The show begins in the first room of the Stedelijk’s permanent collection display, where Matisse’s “Woman Reading” (1895) is placed alongside an icon of the Stedelijk’s collection, George Hendrik Breitner’s “The Red Kimono.” A pre-Fauve landscape by Matisse is placed with pre-Fauvist and post-Fauvist works in the Stedelijk collection, one by Johan Jongkind and the other by Maurice de Vlaminck. Later juxtapositions include Matisse’s cubist works with Mondrian’s early cubist experiments, and Matisse portraits with Picasso portraits.

Some highlights include Matisse’s “Standing Nude,” painted around 1909, alongside an abstracted nude “Bather” (1911) by Kazimir Malevich. Aside from the obvious visual similarity between the shapes and the flatness of the paint in the two works, there’s a biographical connection: A similar Matisse work was owned by the Russian collector Sergei Shchuskin, who took it back to Moscow from France. Malevich, who frequently visited Shchuskin to view his collection, saw it and was probably influenced by it.

Matisse’s landscape painting “Notre Dame,” one of the works on loan from the Tate, is displayed between a Vincent van Gogh landscape and a Paul Cézanne landscape of the same period.

“If you had a cocktail shaker and you put this Cézanne and this van Gogh in, you’d get this work,” Mr. Rutten during a recent walk through the exhibition. “It was known at the time that these two guys were his heroes.”

In this case, the Matisse work may not be the most accomplished of the three, Mr. Rutten said. “It’s a constant exchange,” he said. “Sometimes he’s like the little student taking in his surroundings, and sometimes he’s the teacher.”

Throughout the downstairs rooms, visitors move slowly through the artist’s development: from Fauvism to early abstraction, from a flirtation with Cubism to representation, including a room full of figurative odalisques.

The exhibition compares not just paintings but also costumes, drawings and applied arts to works by his contemporaries. In one room, there is a long, blue silk skirt that Matisse had designed for a sitter in one of his portraits, “Woman in Blue” (1937). In another room, a piece of tapa cloth is displayed next to the painting “Red Interior, Still Life on a Blue Table,” which features some of the same patterns. The walls of Matisse’s studio were hung with such textiles.

As visitors move through the downstairs halls, they encounter more works by Matisse and fewer works by others. In the Hall of Honor, it’s all Matisse: an enormous open space filled with the monumental cut-outs. This is where they can find “Parakeet” back in its home environs, alongside works like “The Sheaf,” on loan from the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and “Acanthuses,” a possibly unfinished work from the Beyeler Collection in Basel, Switzerland.

The exhibition includes a documentary film showing the artist, in his old age, working with an assistant who is helping him complete his cut-outs.

After putting all the pieces into place, Mr. Rutten said he came to appreciate just how much Matisse had influenced, and was influenced by, other artists for half a century.

“What is underlining the beauty of Matisse in this show is that this guy was influential from 1900 up to 1950, constantly,” said Mr. Rutten. “Everything is drenched in Matisse, and that’s what we show.”


Source: The New York Times

If you don’t care about art, you may still call yourself intelligent

The fine arts don’t matter any more to most educated people. This is not a statement of opinion; it is a statement of fact.

As recently as the late 20th century, well-educated people were expected to be able to bluff their way through a dinner party with at least some knowledge of “the fine arts” — defined, since the late 18th century, as painting, sculpture, orchestral or symphonic music, as distinct from popular music, and dance/ballet. (“Starchitects” notwithstanding, architecture has never really been one of the fine arts — it is too utilitarian, too collaborative and too public).

A few decades ago, in American gentry circles, it would have been a terrible faux pas not to have heard of Martha Graham. You were expected to know the difference between a French impressionist and an abstract expressionist. Being taken to the symphony and ballet as a child was a rite of initiation into what Germans call the Bildungsburgertum (the cultivated bourgeoisie).

The “back of the book” in widely-read journals like The New Republic andThe Nation regularly reviewed the latest developments in the New York “art scene.” If you skipped over those sections, you did so with a guilty conscience if you wanted to be a card-carrying member of the intelligentsia.

This is no longer the case. The latest issue of the venerable New York Review of Books, to be sure, has an essay on the new Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. But to judge from zines like Vox, the younger generation of literate and well-educated Americans have an intense interest in literate cable television shows like “Game of Thrones” and the issues of race and gender in Marvel Comics movies. Trends in American painting ever since the plate paintings of Julian Schnabel are not a big subject of debate among Millennials. As far as I can tell, very few college-educated people under the age of 50 pay any attention to the old fine arts at all. A search of the newer literary journal n+1 for traditional reviews of gallery shows revealed only this essay by Dushko Petrovich — from 2005:

Painting has been both dead and back for a little while now, and Greater New York is no exception. Painting hangs out with harsh videos, miniature amusement park rides, and big photos of failed politicians…Many of the paintings seem simply to wish not to keep going, which, if they were sentences or pop songs, would be expected of them. As it is, they can get away with a pose. Their audience, however, is less still and moves swiftly toward the café.

There is still an art world, to be sure, in New York and London and Paris and elsewhere. But it is as insular and marginal as the fashion world, with a similar constituency of rich buyers interacting with producers seeking to sell their wares and establish their brands. Members of the twenty-first century educated elite, even members of the professoriate, will not embarrass themselves if they have never heard of the Venice Biennale.

Many of the Arts Formerly Known as Fine seem to have lost even a small paying constituency among rich people, and live a grant-to-mouth existence. In the old days, bohemian painters lived in garrets and tried to interest gallery owners in their work. Their modern heirs — at least the ones fortunate to have university jobs — can teach classes and apply for grants from benevolent foundations, while creating works of art that nobody may want to buy. Born in bohemia, many aging arts have turned universities into their nursing homes.

What happened? How is it that, in only a generation or two, educated Americans went from at least pretending to know and care about the fine arts to paying no attention at all?

The late Hilton Kramer, editor of The New Criterion, blamed the downfall of the fine arts on purveyors of Pop Art like Andy Warhol. And Jeff Koons, who replaced Arnoldian “high seriousness” and the worship of capital-c Culture with iconoclasm, mockery, and irony. A Great Tradition of two millenia that could be felled by Andy Warhol must have been pretty feeble! But the whole idea of a Phidias-to-Pollock tradition of Great Western Art was unhistorical. The truth is that the evolution (or if you like the degeneration) from Cezanne to Warhol was inevitable from the moment that royal, aristocratic and ecclesiastical patronage was replaced by the market.

Having lost their royal and aristocratic patrons, and finding little in the way of public patronage in modern states, artists from the 19th century to the 21st have sought new patrons among the wealthy people and institutions who have formed the tiny art market. It was not the mockery of Pop artists but the capitalist art market itself which, in its ceaseless quest for novelty, trivialized and marginalized the arts.

The dynamic is clearest in the case of painting and allied visual arts. Markets tend to prize fashionable novelty over continuity. The shocking and sensational get more attention than subtle variations on traditional conventions and themes. Capitalism, applied to the fine arts, created the arms race that led to increasingly drastic departures from premodern artistic tradition, until finally, by the late 20th century, “art” could be everything and therefore nothing.

The textbooks in my college art history classes lied about this. The texts treated the sequence from Cezanne to Picasso to Pollock as purely formal developments within a tradition unaffected by vulgar commercial considerations, like fads and branding and bids for attention — unlike, say, the rise and fall of fins on cars.

In fact Picasso, like Warhol and Koons after him, Picasso was rewarded by the market for pushing the boundaries a bit further for a progressively-jaded audience of rich individual and institutional collectors. The novelty-driven art they produced for private purchasers was and is different in kind from the traditional art commissioned for church and state.

The process of escalating sensationalism ultimately reaches its reductio ad absurdum in any fashion-based industry. In the case of painting and sculpture the point of exhaustion was reached by the 1970s with Pop Art and minimalist art and earth art and conceptual art. Can a row of cars be art? Sure. Can an empty canvas be art? Sure. Does anybody care? No.

That’s why I want my money back.

The share of my college tuition that went to a few art history classes wouldn’t amount to much, even with interest. But the time I that wasted on studying what, in hindsight, was nothing more than a series of ephemeral stylistic fashions among rich people in the Paris and New York art worlds, of no lasting significance whatsoever, is time that I could have been devoted to subjects of real cultural importance to members of educated people in our own day and age. Like Marvel comic book heroes and the movies they inspire.

Source: The Smart Set.

Machine Vision Algorithm Chooses the Most Creative Paintings in History

Art creativity

Creativity is one of humanity’s uniquely defining qualities. Numerous thinkers have explored the qualities that creativity must have, and most pick out two important factors: whatever the process of creativity produces, it must be novel and it must be influential.

The history of art is filled with good examples in the form of paintings that are unlike any that have appeared before and that have hugely influenced those that follow. Leonardo’s 1469 Madonna and child with a pomegranate, Goya’s 1780 Christ crucified or Monet’s 1865 Haystacks at Chailly at sunrise and so on. Others paintings are more derivative, showing many similarities with those that have gone before and so are thought of as less creative.

The job of distinguishing the most creative from the others falls to art historians. And it is no easy task. It requires, at the very least, an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of art. The historian must then spot novel features and be able to recognize similar features in future paintings to determine their influence.

Those are tricky tasks for a human and until recently, it would have been unimaginable that a computer could take them on. But today that changes thanks to the work of Ahmed Elgammal and Babak Saleh at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who say they have a machine that can do just this.

They’ve put it to work on a database of some 62,000 pictures of fine art paintings to determine those that are the most creative in history. The results provide a new way to explore the history of art and the role that creativity has played in it.

Several advances have come together to make this advance possible. The first is the rapid breakthroughs that have been made in recent years in machine vision, based on a way to classify images by the visual concepts they contain.

These visual concepts are called classemes. They can be low-level features such as color, texture, and so on, simple objects such as a house, a church or a haystack and much higher-level features such as walking, a dead body, and so on.

This approach allows a machine vision algorithm to analyze a picture and produce a list of classemes that describe it (up to 2,559 different classemes, in this case). This list is like a vector that defines the picture and can be used to compare it against others analyzed in the same way.

The second advance that makes this work possible is the advent of huge online databases of art. This is important because machine visions algorithms need big databases to learn their trade. Elgammal and Saleh do it on two large databases, one of which, from the Wikiart website, contains images and annotations on some 62,000 works of art from throughout history.

The final component of their work is theoretical. The problem is to work out which paintings are the most novel compared to others that have gone before and then determine how many paintings in the future have uses similar features to work out their influence.

Elgammal and Saleh approach this as a problem of network science. Their idea is to treat the history of art as a network in which each painting links to similar paintings in the future and is linked to by similar paintings from the past.

The problem of determining the most creative is then one of working out when certain patterns of classemes first appear and how these patterns are adopted in the future. “We show that the problem can reduce to a variant of network centrality problems, which can be solved efficiently,” they say.

In other words, the problem of finding the most creative paintings is similar to the problem of finding the most influential person on a social network, or the most important station in a city’s metro system or super spreaders of disease. These have become standard problems in network theory in recent years, and now Elgammal and Saleh apply it to creativity networks for the first time.

The results of the machine vision algorithm’s analysis are interesting. The figure above shows artworks plotted by date along the bottom axis and by the algorithm’s creativity score on the vertical axis.

Several famous pictures stand out as being particularly novel and influential, such as Goya’s Christ crucified, Monet’s Haystacks at Chailly at sunrise and Munch’s The Scream. Other works of art stand out because they are not deemed creative, such as Rodin’s 1889 sculpture Danaid and Durer’s charcoal drawing of Barbara Durer dating from 1514.

Many art historians would agree. “In most cases the results of the algorithm are pieces of art that art historians indeed highlight as innovative and influential,” say Elgammal and Saleh.

An important point here is that these results are entirely automated. They come about because of the network of links between paintings that the algorithm uncovers. There is no initial seeding that biases the search one way or another.

Of course, art historians will always argue about exactly how to define creativity and how this changes their view of what makes it onto the list of most creative. The beauty of Elgammal and Saleh’s techniques is that small changes to their algorithm allow different definitions of creativity to be explored automatically.

This kind of data mining could have important impacts on the way art historians evaluate paintings.  The ability to represent the entire history of art in this way changes the way it is possible to think about art and to discuss it. In a way, this kind of data mining, and the figures that represent it, are new instruments of reason for art historians.

And this approach is not just limited to art. Elgammal and Saleh point out that it can also be used to explore creativity in literature, sculpture, and even in science.

We’ll look forward to seeing how these guys apply it elsewhere.

Source: MIT Technology Review.

Facebook: the art censor

Facebook has attempted to ban the posting of Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World.
 Facebook has attempted to ban the posting of Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World.
Facebook has attempted to ban the posting of Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World.

Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World – his clinically voyeuristic 1866 oil painting of a woman shown literally and solely as a sex object, with all distractions, such as her face, ruthlessly removed – hangs in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, opposite his far larger canvas A Burial at Ornans (1849–50).

It is an incredibly powerful juxtaposition, an unforgettable double act. The small, yet white and bright and unavoidably shocking Origin looks across a shadowy space at the huge, dark, funeral scene, with its enigmatic rural faces gathered around the black void of a grave.

If you could ask Courbet what he believed in, this display makes it plain that he would give the same answer as Woody Allen in Sleeper: “Sex and death. Two things that come once in a lifetime, but at least after death you’re not nauseous.”

Facebook, it seems, gets nauseous when it looks at The Origin of the World. It has banned Courbet’s 19th-century painting and closed down the Facebook page of French art lover Frédéric Durand-Baïssas for showing it in breach of its nudity policy. Now Durand-Baïssas is suing for damages and demanding the restoration of his Facebook rights.

He is right of course. Courbet is a great artist and The Origin of the World is an extreme, yet perfect embodiment of his passionate and revolutionary beliefs. Courbet wanted to paint raw reality. He sought out the most fundamental human themes because he wanted to escape art’s cosy citadel and make it express life itself. He painted death as it is – an incomprehensible mystery – and mourners with faces so inscrutable you can’t tell if they are grieving or calculating their inheritances. His art shares the dirty realism of the novelists Flaubert and Zola.

Courbet painted naked women in a deliberately unsettling, even kitsch way, to avoid any chance of them being seen in a cosy familiar way as refined sexless “nudes”. In the same year he painted The Origin of the World for a private client he painted Woman with a Parrot to show in the public Salon exhibition. It is a nude that is ludicrously posed, making it all the more carnally real. In Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine, he portrayed two prostitutes, perhaps lovers, relaxing with one of them showing her underwear. This is sex as the elixir of reality, the secret to making art truly alive.

The Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet. Photograph: Leemage/Corbis
The Origin of the World by Gustave Courbet. Photograph: Leemage/Corbis

This revolutionary artist – Courbet really was a revolutionary who took part in the Paris Commune in 1871 – deserves reverence and respect, not the fatuous ignorance behind Facebook’s ban. Suppressing The Origin of the World is as ludicrous as censoring Caravaggio’s Victorious Cupid or erotic frescoes from ancient Pompeii.

On the other hand, the painting is shocking and satisfies most definitions of the word “pornographic”. Maybe even the harshest definitions. The Origin of the World is a violent work of art. Its brutal cropping is aggressive. It has a real sense of evil and madness about it, a David Lynchian evocation of the dark side of sexuality. This was exactly what made it such a cult object for the French avant garde in the 20th century. For a long time, this painting was exchanged as a private exhibit, a shared secret between bohemian connoisseurs who admired its extreme sexual shock.

Jacques Lacan, who bought it in 1955, was married to Sylvia Bataille, who was previously married to the writer Georges Bataille. The name Bataille gets us close to the provocative truth about The Origin of the World. In his pornographic novel, The Story of the Eye this dissident surrealist described murder and torture as arousing – the eye in question is a priest’s that gets gouged out for erotic fun.

Can such a work be literature? Yes, says Bataille in his theoretical writings, and Penguin Modern Classics agrees with him. The daring of the French avant garde, from the 1850s to the 1950s, was to see sex as the stuff of art precisely because it is dangerous and reason-destroying.

Courbet’s extreme masterpiece is at the head of that tradition. It is great art and it is pornography. Got a problem with that, Facebook?

Source: The Guardian.

Power, trials and nazis: the controversial story behind Gustav Klimt’s “Adele Bloch-Bauer I”

A visitor at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art views the painting titled "Adele Bloch-Bauer I," April 4, 2006, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ric Francis)
A visitor at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art views the painting titled “Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” April 4, 2006, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ric Francis)

Maria Altmann was in her 80s when she entered into a legal battle with the Austrian government in order to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” and other Nazi-plundered Klimt paintings.

The artwork had been stolen from her family’s home after she escaped from Austria as a Jewish refugee of the Holocaust during World War II. Never certain she would even live to see a verdict, Altmann’s fight wasn’t about money or revenge. According to her, she simply wanted to preserve the truth of what had happened to her family.

So the history goes, the paintings in question were originally confiscated by Nazi authorities from Altmann’s uncle, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, and acquired by the state of Austria following German occupation. When Altmann began her fight, in the late 1990s, the portrait of Bloch-Bauer’s wife Adele had already made its way to the Galerie Belvedere in Vienna, where it was known by a colloquial moniker, “Women in Gold,” to obscure the subject’s Jewish heritage.

Shrouded in mystery until Altmann spoke out, the painting had come to be known as Austria’s “Mona Lisa.”

Maria Altmann, at her home in Los Angeles on Jan. 9, 2004, stands before a poor reproduction of famed Austrian painter Gustav Klimt's "The Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I." (AP Photo/Nam Huh)
Maria Altmann, at her home in Los Angeles on Jan. 9, 2004, stands before a poor reproduction of famed Austrian painter Gustav Klimt’s “The Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I.” (AP Photo/Nam Huh)

Altmann, then living in Los Angeles, never thought she would actually gain control of her native country’s most prized artistic possession. (The Austrian government had ignored Altmann’s initial pleas.) And neither did her lawyer, E. Randol Schoenberg. Altmann had chosen him to represent her because he was the grandson of her friend, Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Schoenberg compared their legal efforts to a PR stunt — victory seemed impossible, but it was sure to earn Altmann’s story the attention it deserved. Really, that’s all they wanted. “I told her, ‘Everyone is going to know your story,'” Schoenberg told The Huffington Post. “Everyone was going to know about this picture and that was largely our motivation.”

The logistics of the legal battle are rather complicated. Schoenberg remained friendly yet exasperated as he unpacked the more complex details. In short, he worked to prove that although Adele Bloch-Blauer’s will had directed that her husband donate the paintings to the Belvedere upon his death, Ferdinand Bloch-Blauer had commissioned the painting (and, thus, had been its rightful owner). Furthermore, Adele died before the Klimts were stolen, and Ferdinand’s will left everything to his nieces and nephews. It was up to Schoenberg to demonstrate, in part, that Adele’s dying wishes were simply a request that could not have been made with knowledge of the horrors that would befall her family.

She had no idea,” Altmann told NPR’s Nina Totenberg of her aunt’s final wishes. “She would have never requested her husband, even in a dream, to leave these to the [Galerie Belvedere] after a number of her friends were murdered, committed suicide. I mean, it is totally incomprehensible that such a thing would have happened.”

Over several years, Altmann’s case went from a district court in Central California to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately led to binding arbitration in Austria. It was a risky series of moves meant to push the case forward, as Schoenberg feared Altmann would die before her case was resolved.

“I went into a private room with Maria and told her they agreed to arbitration and she said, ‘You’re crazy!,'” he explained. “I said, ‘Maria, you’re 85 years old. If we really want to get this over with in your lifetime, we have to take this chance and I think we can do it.”

It turned out he was right. Altmann won the case in 2006, earning back the paintings that had been lost for nearly 70 years. That year, Altmann sold Adele’s portrait to Ronald Lauder, co-founder and president of the Neue Galerie in New York City, for a staggering $135 million, the highest price ever paid for a single painting at the time.

When asked why Altmann sold something she had fought so hard to win back, Schoenberg turned lawyerly. He explained that she had to share Adele’s portrait with her siblings and their heirs, that none of those in line for the painting could afford to keep it in their homes, due to insurance costs. Then he added:

“The primary motivation was sort of indicating the truth of what had happened to her and telling the story,” he said. “You know, no one even thought we would win.”

According to Schoenberg, Altmann didn’t do anything extravagant with her share of the money. She was able to afford in-home care before her death in February of 2011. He recalled that she had been excited about buying a new dishwasher.

Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds star in "Woman in Gold"
Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds star in “Woman in Gold”

Altmann is the subject of Simon Curtis’ latest film, “Woman in Gold.” After discovering her tale through a BBC documentary, the director worked carefully with what he calls a “massive story,” choosing which elements of the saga to keep, while maintaining a clear representation of the facts in mind. “We had to leave a lot out,” he said. “I jokingly say that my last [movie] was ‘My Week with Marilyn,’ this was my century with Maria.”

Curtis cast Helen Mirren in the role of Maria, and the two began to study footage of Altmann. Schoenberg also worked as a consultant on the film, ensuring it remained faithful to Altmann’s experiences. He was impressed with how much of the nearly century-long story Curtis was able to squeeze into the 109-minute drama. Even parts of the narrative that were exaggerated for the film — like Maria’s final goodbye with her parents — resonated with Holocaust survivors who had similar experiences.

“Maria’s dad actually died when she was in Vienna, so she didn’t have that particular farewell,” Schoenberg said. “I always thought of it as manufactured and then someone came up to me and said, ‘I love that scene, my mother had to do that with her parents and never saw them again.'”

Schoenberg comes from a Jewish family and his experiences with Altmann helped him connect to his ancestors and the pain they endured during the Holocaust.

“You don’t interrogate your grandparents, right?” he laughed. “But when you’re a lawyer on a legal case, you have to do that. Working on this case with Maria has opened my eyes quite a bit to what the Holocaust was really like.”

One of Curtis’ goals in bringing the legacy of the “Woman in Gold” to the screen was to share Schoenberg’s experience with a generation of younger viewers, who understand the Holocaust as a distant past. He modeled the character of Randy (Ryan Reynolds) into a vessel for that viewing of the film.

“We wanted our Randy to be an all-American guy, living his life in California,” Curtis said. “He becomes aware during the narrative of the film of his past and what his ancestors went through to get him where he is today.”

So far, “Woman in Gold” seems to be having that impact. The film experienced relative success at the box office, leading to a wide release in its second weekend in theaters.

“I’d be insane if I wasn’t deeply moved and deeply heartened by the way audiences react,” Curtis concluded. “They seem to connect and be emotionally engaged by it. It’s been one of the great experiences of my life hearing those reactions.”

While he regrets not having the chance to meet with Altmann, Schoenberg knows she would have been pleased with “Woman in Gold.” After all, the only thing she ever really wanted was to ensure that the world would know her story.

“Woman in Gold” is now out in wide release. “Gustav Klimt and Adele Bloch-Bauer: The Woman in Gold,” a special exhibition, is on view at the Neue Galerie until Sept. 7, 2015.

Source: The Huffington Post