Present, Past and Art

I just finished reading O’Connor’s book “The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece”. My wife came across the book while browsing in our local bookstore and fed it to me as ” a must reading.” Who am I to resist my wife’s request? The truth is we share a special attraction for Klimt’s paintings. We were familiar with ubiquitous poster reproductions of “The Kiss”, but an exhibit entitled “Vienne” at the Pompidou Museum in Paris revealed Klimt’s stature as a major art figure. Years later a visit to Vienna gave us the opportunity to discover the full scope of his talent and his impact on the social and cultural life of the city. It is easy to understand I was eager to follow my wife’s recommendation.

Ever since Zionism became a national movement with a territorial claim, the Arab world has used terror to obstruct the Jewish people’s endeavor to rebuild their homeland in parts of the desolate barren land that lays between the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. In this historic perspective Zionism triggered the current conflict with Gaza as just another episode of what seems an everlasting struggle.

If you have reached to here in reading the post, you may ask what associates the two here above paragraphs. The link is Vienna. O’Connor brings to life the cultural elite of Vienna in which Jews were almost on a par with Gentiles. Ferdinand Bloch, a rich Jewish industrialist and his wife Adele Bauer, daughter of a banker, commissioned Klimt to paint a portrait of Adele that became “The Lady in Gold”. Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl is the figure who fathered the political credentials of the Zionist movement and formulated the framework on which the State of Israel exists today. He bears thereby a responsibility for the relentless hostility our country endures. Herzl was a prominent figure in the social and cultural life of Vienna in which the Austrian version of “Art Nouveau” burgeoned. He was a frequent guest in the circle of wealthy Jewish families that patronized Klimt. These Jewish families had become an integral part of the Viennese elite. They rejected Herzl’s national aspirations to end persecution. They sought instead to solve the “Jewish problem” by assimilation and inter-marriage into the Gentile high society. The glitter of wealth masked the fragility of the grounds on which assimilation was built. The Jews ignored early signals of rampaging antisemitism and were taken by surprise when the German Anschluss unleashed murder, beating, rape and looting, putting an end to a glamorous way of life. An ironic turn of fate illustrates the tragic extend of the Jewish elite’s collapse. Heydrich, the mastermind of the “Final Solution” of the Jewish problem elaborated at the Wannsee conference, chose the palace Ferdinand Bloch owned in Prague as his residence.

Like the Phenix that is reborn from its ashes, the surviving descendants of the Lady in Gold put up a successful legal fight to retrieve the looted painting from Austrian custody. It is now on display in a New York museum, under the aegis of American Jewish magnate Ron Lauder. In my view it is still in exile. Beyond its aesthetic qualities and the troubling glance glittering in Adele’s eyes, the painting bears the plight of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. Herzl’s Zionism has given birth to the Jewish homeland in Israel, a country opened to Jews wherever they are. The rightful ultimate harbor for the Lady in Gold is in Jerusalem side by side with the Wailing Wall, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Holocaust Shrine.


One thought on “Present, Past and Art

  1. There is very little in common between Herzl’s Zionism and current “Zionism”. Herzl was secular and his ideas where guided by pragmatism. Today, the word Zionism correlates with religious Jewish settlers guided by god’s calling. If Herzl lived today, he would be considered a lefty traitor.


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