Klimt’s Legacy

One the eve of his 150th birthday, a painting of Gustav Klimt’s was released by an Austrian Museum to an heir of its original owners, Georges Jorisch. Mr. Jorisch’s grandmother, Amalie Redlich, was deported from Austria to Poland in 1941, where she was presumably killed. The Nazis, having invaded Austria, had seized the Redlich family’s possessions, including the Klimt landscape “Litzlberg on the Attersee, ” which was painted in 1913 while the artist was at a summer vacation home in Italy.
After years of investigations, interviews, and official verification, the Museum de Modern, Salzberg, returned the painting to Mr. Jorisch. Mr. Jorisch has, in turn, contracted Sotheby’s for its sale, of which some of the proceeds will be donated back to the Museum in memory of Mrs. Redlich. It sold in November 2011 for $40 million dollars.
Klimt’s landscapes were rarely preceded with extensive preparatory studies, which is unlike his more famous portraiture. Yet there remains instilled in them a geometric lushness that is enticing and indicates this artist, at the height of his powers, was depicting suggestive figures that trigger the mind. His systematic plotting and color execution belie an effective capture of Mother Nature and all her capriciousness. These gifts come from a painting that spent the majority of its existence in the hands of an entity that had no rights to it. While vindication has finally been met, the allegory continues.
What hides under this restitution, this financial boondoggle, this political and cultural nod to one of the best of the Fin-de-siècle? Nothing can replace the loss of family. No grief is appeased by money. Yet the allegory of financial reward and artistic appreciation is being presented as a balm to the heirs of Amalie Redlich and all those whose losses can’t be calculated.
How would Klimt, who lived much of his life as a recluse, have reacted to the social and political elevation of this work? Or is there an allegory buried in the canvas, waiting for definition, ready to be caught?

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