Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (also called The Lady in Gold or The Woman in Gold) is a painting by Gustav Klimt, completed between 1903 and 1907. The portrait was commissioned by the sitter’s husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer [de], a Jewish banker and sugar producer. The painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. The portrait is the final and most fully representative work of Klimt’s golden phase. It was the first of two depictions of Adele by Klimt—the second was completed in 1912; these were two of several works by the artist that the family owned.
Adele died in 1925; her will asked that the artworks by Klimt were to be left to the Galerie Belvedere, although these belonged to Ferdinand, not her. Following the Anschluss of Austria by Nazi Germany, Ferdinand fled Vienna, and made his way to Switzerland, leaving behind much of his wealth, including his large art collection. The painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941, along with the remainder of Ferdinand’s assets, after a charge of tax evasion was made against him. The assets raised from the purported sales of artwork, property and his sugar business were offset against the tax claim. The lawyer acting on behalf of the German state gave the portrait to the Galerie Belvedere, claiming he was following the wishes Adele had made in her will. Ferdinand died in 1945; his will stated that his estate should go to his nephew and two nieces.
In 1998 Hubertus Czernin, the Austrian investigative journalist, established that the Galerie Belvedere contained several works stolen from Jewish owners in the war, and that the gallery had refused to return the art to their original owners, or to acknowledge a theft had taken place. One of Ferdinand’s nieces, Maria Altmann, hired the lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg to make a claim against the gallery for the return of five works by Klimt. After a seven-year legal claim, which included a hearing in front of the Supreme Court of the United States, an arbitration committee in Vienna agreed that the painting, and others, had been stolen from the family and that it should be returned to Altmann. She sold it the same year for $135 million, at the time a record price for a painting to the businessman and art collector Ronald Lauder, who placed the work in the Neue Galerie, the New York-based gallery he co-founded.