Klimt Lost

Gustav Klimt (1917) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

Gustav Klimt has been dead for over 100 years. Even his collectors and patrons are no longer alive. Some of them were killed by the National Socialists (Nazis). Numerous others died in exile worldwide, where they were often forced to stay even after the end of National Socialist rule in 1945. Gustav Klimt's paintings can no longer be found on the walls of his patrons' salons, but instead mostly in museums. Some of his works were destroyed, went astray, were burned, or disappeared without a trace. In many cases, the life that played out in front of Gustav Klimt's paintings day in, day out, came to an abrupt end with the "Anschluss" (annexing by Nazi Germany) of Austria in March 1938. It disappeared in much the same way as the close, personal relationships the owners had with their art.

This online exhibit addresses the theme of artworks and life prospects that are lost forever. There is a story attached to each of Gustav Klimt's paintings, without which a comprehensive observation of the works by Austria's perhaps most famous artist is impossible.

Wien 13, Feldmühlgasse 11 (1918) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

Feldmühlgasse 11

After the death of Gustav Klimt, the villa that still exists today was built over the top of the small studio building. The Jewish couple who owned it had to escape during National Socialism. The house and grounds were aryanized (stripped of non-Aryan ownership), given back after the war, and finally sold to the Austrian Republic. From the 1950s, the building was used as a school, and parts of the garden were cultivated. Since 1999, efforts have been made to preserve Klimt's last studio as a memorial. Although the house had been changed dramatically and only a few original traces were left of Klimt, the authenticity of the place was important to many of its visitors.

So many different layers of its tragic history remain hidden—Vienna's assimilated Jewish society, which was abruptly ended and lost when the Nazis took power; dismissed facts related to "aryanization" and loss; stories of an unwillingness and delay in dealing with this dark history—all of which are inextricably linked to the history of Klimt's physical surroundings, his models, and his collectors.

Sitzbadewanne Klimt Villa (before 1918) by UnknownKlimt Villa

As part of renovation work in 2009, a basic survey was conducted by Austria's Federal Monuments Authority. After over 80 years being used for different purposes, no original furniture was left in the house. Only this bathtub was found and dated as pre-1918. Whether it was in the house during Gustav Klimt's lifetime, or whether it was even used by him, one of his models, or a later inhabitant, remains uncertain. The bathtub has been taken out of context and now only invites historical speculation.

Tina und Felix Klein (around 1930) by UnknownOriginal Source: Private archive of Joanna Beck

In 1923, Tina and Felix Klein had a Neo-Baroque villa built over the top of the studio building. The studio rooms on the ground floor remained structurally intact, and a new floor was added along with a large staircase. The Jewish couple were interested in arts and culture, maintained contact with artists and those engaged in the cultural sector, and even surrounded themselves with art and design in the villa. The Kleins managed to flee the country before the onset of National Socialism. They found refuge in France and Monaco. Their property fell victim to Nazi looting.

Magdalena Emin auf der Terrasse der Villa Feldmühlgasse 11 (after 1930) by UnknownOriginal Source: Private archive B. Emin

In May 1939, the Klein family's entire assets were valued as part of the Nazi raid. A short time later, Iranian-Austrian couple Nato and Magdalena Emin bought the villa for 76,000 Reichsmarks. The couple lived there until 1947. The house was finally returned to the Kleins in 1950. Tina and Felix Klein came back to Austria in 1955, but not to Feldmühlgasse.

Gustav Klimt, Martha Mautner-Markhof and Editha Mautner-MarkhofAustrian National Library

Collecting Klimt

Collectors of Gustav Klimt's works were predominantly members of the upper middle class. Acquiring a Klimt was not only a financial investment, but also an expression of high social status. Collecting Gustav Klimt's artworks expressed a certain identity and social belonging. Klimt's circle of collectors were often unified by their strong identification with the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) concept. As such, his patrons and supporters were also customers of the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop) and architect Josef Hoffmann.

Many of Klimt's works derived from family relationships, friendships, and professional associations. Among Gustav Klimt's most important patrons were the Zuckerkandl, Bloch-Bauer, Lederer, Primavesi, and Wittgenstein families, as well as Alma Mahler and Carl Reininghaus.

Serena Lederer (after 1903) by Martin GerlachAustrian National Library

Serena Lederer in her salon, the "Wally," "Goldener Apfelbaum" (Golden Apple Tree), and "Bildnis Serena Lederer" (Portrait of Serena Lederer) paintings hanging on the wall, and a stone head designed by Klimt on the floor.
August and Serena Lederer's private Klimt collection was one of the most signficant, and was on display to the public from 1921. Gustav Klimt was often associated with his patrons in his private life. The Lederer couple enjoyed a close friendship with the artist.

Wohnungsansicht Friederike Maria Beer-Monti (around 1914) by UnknownOriginal Source: Collection of Jutta and Wolfgang Georg Fischer Vienna/London

Friederike Beer-Monti, like other Klimt patrons, had her apartment decorated with Wiener Werkstätte furniture. Beer-Monti, who even described herself as a "walking advertisement" for the Wiener Werkstätte, is a further example of the similarity in taste among Klimt's patrons, collectors, models, and the artist himself. The carpet shown in the photograph also lay in the reception room of Klimt's studio in Hietzing.

Cover des Katalogs „Gustav Klimt Ausstellung 1943“ (1943) by Ausstellungshaus Friedrichstrasse (ehemalige Secession)Original Source: Private archive


The Nazis recognized the quality and value of Klimt's work. His works were either taken from their Jewish owners, auctioned off and added to state collections, or put in storage after they had been plundered. If the pieces didn't fall victim to institutionalized robbery by the Nazis, they ended up in the hands of private "Aryanizers" and profiteers. In 1943, right in the middle of the war, a comprehensive Klimt retrospective was displayed in the former Secession building.

Innenansicht des Katalogs „Gustav Klimt Ausstellung 1943“ (1943) by Ausstellungshaus Friedrichstrasse (ehemalige Secession)Original Source: Private archive

The owners of the stolen works of art were no longer named in the catalog. The titles of some of the pieces had also been changed to remove any references to the subjects of the portraits, since they were persecuted as Jews in line with the Nazis' racial laws. The portrait of Charlotte Pulitzer was described as "Portrait of an Old Lady" in the exhibition catalog, for example.

The friends after Gustav Klimt, plate 1, Gustav Klimt - The gleanings (1931) by Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

Serena Lederer was one of the involuntary "lenders" to the exhibit in 1943. In this show, the painting entitled "Die Freundinnen" (The Friends) was merely listed as being "privately owned." Serena Lederer herself had been in exile in Hungary since 1939 and attempted to retain her art collection from afar. Her efforts were in vain. Up until her death in 1943, she had no influence whatsoever over how her collection was preserved, sold, or stored.

Castle Immendorf (1936) by Heinrich SeeringAustrian National Library

Schloss Immendorf

Owned by the Freudenthal family from 1886, Schloss Immendorf was used by the Nazis as a storage depot for works of art and cultural assets from 1942 onwards. In addition to a number of Gustav Klimt paintings from the Lederer collection that had been confiscated and "aryanized," other dispossessed works of art and objects from the Bondy and Lanckoroński collections were also stored in the castle. At the beginning of May 1945, a fire was started at the castle, and it burned to the ground. Apart from two carpets, all the artworks and cultural assets stored there were destroyed by the fire. Fifteen of Gustav Klimt's works were burned, including the scandalous Faculty Paintings created for the University of Vienna.

Schloss(park) Immendorf (2017) by Manfred SeidlKlimt Villa

The rightful owners of the collections and possessions stored at Immendorf were forced to flee due to their Jewish heritage. Around 30 percent of Austria's Jewish population did not manage to escape the Nazi terror regime. Dozens of collectors of Gustav Klimt's paintings were victims of the Holocaust. The "Klimt Lost" online exhibit is intended to acknowledge all those who lost their belongings, were robbed of their home environments, and lost their lives during the Nazi extermination campaign.

Brandruine Schloss Immendorf (1945) by UnknownOriginal Source: Private archive of Rudolf Freudenthal

The 900 m² castle, which had a total of 40 rooms, was completely destroyed during the fires that burned from May 8‒11, 1945. According to reports at the time, the fire was started by an SS demolition squad as they withdrew before the arrival of the advancing Red Army. The perpetrators have not been investigated to this day, and the motive for the fire is effectively unresolved.

Metallfragment des Schlossgartenzaunes von Immendorf (around 1900)Original Source: Private archive of Rudolf Freudenthal

After the fire at Schloss Immendorf, the Freudenthal family did not rebuild it. Today, the ruins are overgrown with greenery. Only the wrought-iron fence that surrounds the parkland remains. Immendorf is primarily etched in cultural history for the irreparable loss of works of art, rather than the fates of the Klimt collectors who were associated with them.

Farmer's garden with chickens after Gustav Klimt, plate 26, Gustav Klimt - The gleanings (1931) by Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

Alongside the painting "Gartenweg mit Hühnern" (Garden Path with Chickens), the following works by Gustav Klimt were destroyed in the fire at Schloss Immendorf:
- "Malcesine am Gardasee" (Malcesine on Lake Garda), 1913
- "Die Freundinnen II" (The Friends II), 1916/17
- "Philosophie" (Philosophy), 1900–07
- "Bauerngarten mit Kruzifix" (Farm Garden with Crucifix), 1912
- "Wally," 1916
- "Jurisprudenz" (Jurisprudence, composition piece), 1897/98
- "Schubert am Klavier" (Schubert at the Piano), 1899
- "Goldener Apfelbaum" (Golden Apple Tree), 1903
- "Jurisprudenz" (Jurisprudence), 1903 (final version, 1907)
- "Philosophie" (Philosophy, composition piece), 1898
- "Die Musik" (The Music), 1897/98
- "Aus dem Reich des Todes (Zug der Toten)" (From the Empire of Death (Procession of the Dead)), 1903
- "Leda," 1917
- "Medizin" (Medicine), 1900–07

Jurisprudence (1898-1903, slightly revised until 1907) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

Although Klimt's works of art are significant worldwide, the story of how they were collected is still relatively unknown to the wider public. Two thirds of his works are now located in museums, and 15 percent are thought to be missing.

Painting "Procession of the Dead" (1903) by Gustav Klimt (1903) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

The fates of collectors who were persecuted by the Nazis and the provenance of so many pieces can only be discovered by engaging with their past. The fate of Nora Stiasny and her family is typical of those who collected Gustav Klimt's works and were killed in the Holocaust. The loss of life far outweighs that of the paintings, yet in this context, the fate of Klimt's collectors has long since faded out.

Foto der Familie Stiasny (before 1942) by UnknownOriginal Source: Literature archive of the Austrian National Library / Vienna, 438/L228

On April 9, 1942, Nora Stiasny was transported to the Izbica ghetto and murdered along with her mother Amalie Zuckerkandl and 998 others. Between April 9 and June 5, 1942, 4,000 Jewish women, men, and children were transported to Izbica from Vienna's Aspang railway station alone. Her husband Paul and her son Otto initially managed to escape to Prague. Both were transported separately to Theresienstadt in 1942. Otto Stiasny was murdered at Auschwitz in October 1942, and Paul Stiasny in September 1943.

Akten der Abteilung für Restitutionsangelegenheiten der Israelitischen Kultusgemeinde (2018) by Niko WahlKlimt Villa


Immediately after the war, the surviving collectors and their descendants started to search for their stolen works of art. The newly formed Austrian Republic was not supportive. In fact, the Federal Monuments Authority attempted to acquire some of the paintings in exchange for exporting other works as forced donations to state collections.

Political bargaining pressure only came about in the late 90s through the journalistic efforts of Hubertus Czernin (1956–2006), for instance, and as a consequence of two paintings by Egon Schiele being seized spectacularly from the Leopold collection in the USA. As a result, a federal law on restitution was passed, which made it the Republic's duty to research the provenance of items held by the state and to deal with the public perception of the issue.

Fax von Maria Altmann an Hubertus Czernin (1999) by Maria AltmannOriginal Source: Private archive of Valerie Czernin

As part of his journalistic work around Nazi-confiscated art and restitution, Hubertus Czernin carried out pioneering scientific research. He gathered his research in countless folders and organized it by case. The contents of the folders formed the basis of a series of newspaper articles and books, as well as being an important resource for disputes on the restitutions themselves. Folder no. 33 contains a fax from Maria Altmann, the niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer, who in the end managed to recover the portrait of her aunt.

Was einmal war. Handbuch der enteigneten Kunstsammlungen Wiens (2003) by Sophie LillieOriginal Source: Private archive

With an almost 60-year delay, the Nazi raids finally lead to comprehensive research into the provenance of artwork, on behalf of both the heirs and the Republic. A huge amount of literature was published on the topic. The book by Sophie Lillie entitled What Once Was (Was einmal war)—a handbook of Vienna's dispossessed art collections—became one of the standard works on the topic.

MitarbeiterInnen der Kommission für Provenienzforschung (2014) by Sabine KlimptKlimt Villa

In 1998, the Commission for Provenance Research was established in order to document looted objects currently housed in the Republic's collections. The results of the research are handed over to an advisory body, which provides recommendations to the ministers responsible regarding restitution. Over 300 recommendations have been submitted to date, the majority of which advocated for restitution.

Portrait of Hermine Gallia (1904) by Gustav KlimtThe National Gallery, London

Lost Worlds

The persecution of Jewish citizens during the Nazi era was a comprehensive operation. The confiscation and expropriation of their estates, valuables, and art collections amounted to much more than a physical loss of property. Around 100,000 Jewish men and women who managed to flee between March 1938 and May 1939 lost their home and social environments, as well as their social lives through displacement during the National Socialist era.

From the moment they escaped, many of them had a deep-rooted and lifelong feeling of personal loss—a feeling that continued even after 1945 due to the reluctant efforts of the post-war society. As a result, exile became a permanent new home for countless emigrants. Among them were Käthe and Gretl Gallia, two sisters from a Jewish upper-middle-class family in Vienna. Their parents, Moriz and Hermine Gallia, were important supporters of Gustav Klimt and the Viennese art scene around 1900.

Wohllebengasse. Die Geschichte meiner Wiener Familie (2013) by Tim BonyhadyKlimt Villa

After the death of his mother, Anne Gallia, in 2003, the Australian lawyer and historian, Tim Bonyhady, started to write a book about his family's history. Originally from Silesia, the author's great-grandparents, Moriz and Hermine Gallia, managed to rise to the upper echelons of Viennese society within one generation on the back of their gas lamp business. The book, which tells the story of the rise and fall of a Jewish family, and was described as a "sociogram of a lost world," was a great success thanks to its painstaking research and a generational portrait spanning the entire 20th century.

Margarete (Gretl) Herschmann-Gallia vor dem Gemälde ihrer Mutter in Cremorne (1965)Original Source: Archive of Tim Bonyhady

Right after the November pogrom (Nazi attacks on Jews and Jewish neighborhoods) in 1938, Käthe and Gretl Gallia were forced to flee from the Nazis along with Gretl's 16-year-old daughter Annelore. Unlike many other Jewish refugees, they managed to take the majority of their transportable belongings—such as furniture by Josef Hoffman and Klimt's portrait of their mother Hermine—along with them to their new home in Australia. Käthe and Gretl Gallia never returned to Austria.

Klimt-Porträt von Hermine Gallia in der London National Gallery (2018) by Andrew Graves-JohnstonOriginal Source: Private archive

After a long trip to Europe with her sons Bruce and Tim, Annelore Gallia (née Bonyhady) sold the portrait of her grandmother in order to care for her mother and aunt, who were in poor health. The painting was bought by London art dealers Harry and Wolfgang Fischer for 20,000 guineas (around 21,000 pounds) at Christie's auctionhouse in London.

Medienberichte zur Restitution des Gemäldes „Adele Bloch-Bauer I“ (2006) by Heide BuschhausenOriginal Source: Private archive Buschhausen

Feelings of Loss

No other restitution case captured the attention of the public in the same way as the debate over the restitution of Klimt's "Adele Bloch-Bauer I" portrait. The painting became one of Klimt's best-known works after the claim for restitution by heiress Maria Altmann. The dispute unearthed both old and new antisemitism, as well as a greater consciousness of the behavior of the Austrian Republic in dealing with looted art and its owners since 1945.

Both the media and large swathes of the Austrian population were engaged in an emotionally-driven debate around this notion of "loss." Austrian society as a whole seemed to sense the significance of this loss in much the same way as the heirs themselves did. They debated the claim for restitution of a stolen oil painting as if they were talking about the loss of the people in the portrait, who were ostracized by the Nazis.

Ausstellungsansicht des Gemäldes „Adele Bloch-Bauer I“ (2006) by Hulya KolabasOriginal Source: Archive Neue Galerie, New York

In January 2006, a decision by a court of arbitration ruled that the golden portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer was to be returned by the Belvedere Museum in Vienna to the heirs of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer, along with other works by Klimt. This legal battle received more international interest and publicity in the Austria media than any other.

Since June 2006, the golden portrait has been on permanent display at New York's Neue Galerie. The painting ended up in the place where many of those who fled Austria in 1938 found their new home.

Credits: Story

Curation: Marion Krammer, Niko Wahl

Collaboration for the online version: Robert Vorberg

Work archive by Hubertus Czernin
Neue Galerie archives, New York
Archive by Tim Bonyhady
Klimt Villa
National Gallery, London
Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Austrian National Library)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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