The Golden Adele
(a semi-documentary play about the life of a painting)
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt (a copy, but maybe the original)
Gustav Klimt, an artist
Adele – a young woman, the subject of a painting
Ferdinand – an industrialist, Adele’s husband, 16 years her senior
Maria – Adele’s niece, the daughter of Adele’s sister Thedy
Alois Kunst – Maria’s friend from her school years, an art expert
Hubertus Czernin – investigative journalist, descendant of a well known Austrian noble family
1903-1907, a beautifully appointed living room in the house of Ferdinand and Adele in Vienna.
Adele is seated in an armchair, a cigarette in an elegant cigarette holder is smoldering in the ashtray.
Ferdinand enters hastily and kisses his wife on the cheek.
Ferdinand (joyfully): Imagine, Darling, I invited him to dine with us tonight!
Adele (one can clearly hear suffering in her voice): Who is he?
Ferdinand: What do you mean – who is he? Your darling, Gustav….
Adele: Are you talking about your brother Gustav and my sister Thedy?
Ferdinand: No, of course not!
Adele: Ferry, darling, I have such a headache all day today, and you are speaking in riddles…
Ferdinand: I invited your favorite artist to dinner…
Adele (excitedly): So you mean – Gustav Klimt?
Ferdinand: Yes, him! I recently discovered one French recipe…
Adele: Since when do you have an interest in cuisine, dinners, recipes?!
Ferdinand: This is not your ordinary cooking recipe; it is a script for a good marriage…
Adele: Ferry, we have been married for four years already, and I have yet to master understanding your innuendos.
Ferdinand: The French suggest that when a husband has a mistress, it is best not to badmouth her, but, quite to the contrary, invite her to dinner at his home.
Adele: But I do not think you have a mistress. Or am I mistaken?
Ferdinand: No, darling. You should know by now that my passion is my factory. But, just in case you have a new passion, I decided to follow this French wisdom and invite him to dine with us.
Adele: Ah-ha… Now I understand! You must have attended a lecture by Doctor Freud.
Ferdinand: Doctor who? You should know, darling that the factory keeps me busy from morning until night.
Adele: You know, Thedy and me attended his lecture.
Ferdinand (continuing his thought): Therefore, I decided to commission Klimt to paint a portrait of ‘My Wife Adele’.
Adele: What a strange idea! What made you think of it?
Ferdinand (after a brief pause): An empty wall in our living room! (He points to the wall with his hand). First, I had considered buying a painting by one of the Old Dutch masters, but, then, I thought ‘why do I need the Old Dutch, when I have a young wife!?’
Adele: And you decided that your ‘young wife’ will agree to pose for him?
Ferdinand: But you did pose for him two years ago when he painted ‘Judith’!
Adele: Who told you that I posed for him?
Ferdinand: Everyone is talking about this all around Vienna… And the husband, as the French would say, is always the last one to know.
Adele (pedantically): All around Vienna they are talking about the philosophy of Nietzsche and about this popular psychiatrist Doctor Freud and his Interpretation of Dreams…
Ferdinand (reflecting): Speaking of dreams… This idea, to commission a portrait of you, came to me in a dream…
Adele: What kind of a dream was this? Is it the one of seven fat cows and seven lean cows, just like in The Bible? Do tell, maybe I can interpret it, just like Doctor Freud?
Ferdinand (contemplating): I had a strange dream, Adelke… Remember, when you visited my factory, and I showed you the big machines we use to break and cut sugar into pieces…
Adele: I remember something like that… But what does your dream have to do with this?
Ferdinand: I dreamt that machines just like these, only bigger, much bigger, were cruising around Vienna, cutting up large beautiful buildings into smaller and smaller pieces, which then turned into sugar…
Adele: These machines were cruising Vienna by themselves, going from one house to another?
Ferdinand: No, Adelke, they were pushed around by people, the happy Viennese people, I even recognized some of our neighbors among them.
Adele: And what happened then?
Ferdinand: They collected those small pieces of sugar, stuffed them into their pockets and bags, and, happily, dragged them to their homes…
Adele: What happened after that?
Ferdinand: After that, the destruction spread to more homes in Vienna. Our house was destroyed also. Then, they rolled these machines into Bohemia, and there was more destruction — our factory crumbled, as well as our summer home, with everything in it – our favorite Saxony dishes, and our collection of porcelain…
Adele: What a nightmare!
Ferdinand (speaking slowly and calmly): And in the midst of this… (tries to find the right word) apocalypse your portrait survived unscathed.
Adele: Which portrait remained unscathed, Ferry? The portrait of Judith?
Ferdinand: No, Adelke, not the Portrait of Judith, but another portrait of you – the one in yellow and gold tones.
Adele: But there is no other portrait.
Ferdinand: This is why I decided to commission it, so there it is!
Adele: Ferry, I have to ask you again: how do you know I will agree to pose for this portrait?
Ferdinand: Because you like Klimt, and you like being around him – so, it should interest you. Klimt will get a good commission – it will surely interest him! And me, I will have a ‘Portrait of My Wife’, which I dreamt up – and this is what interests me. And thus, everyone will be happy and with their interests satisfied!
Adele: Ferry, you sound like a business man making a deal.
Ferdinand: Exactly. I am making a deal — I sign a contract and I pay. He gets the money, and I get the portrait.
Adele: So your goal is to cover an empty wall in our living room with my portrait?
Ferdinand: Adelke, I know exactly what I want: this will be a very unusual portrait! Maybe, this portrait will symbolize a child that G-d has not sent us yet….
After a short pause
Adele: Ferry, you are more of a psychologist, than a businessman. You should definitely meet Doctor Freud.
Ferdinand: Why? A good businessman is already a psychologist! And I am already well acquainted with his teacher, Doctor Breuer.
Adele: Do you remember how, before you proposed, you asked me if I liked sugar with my tea?
Ferdinand: Of course, I remember…
Adele: And, how I replied that I do like my tea with sugar. You were so happy and you said:
‘Then, you will like me too, because I am a sugar manufacturer!’
Ferdinand: But there are also the tea producers…
A door bell rings
Adele: Here they come — the tea producers…
Gustav Klimt enters with a sketchpad.
Klimt: Good evening!
Adele (joyous): Good evening, Mister Klimt…
Ferdinand (rather formally): Good evening, Mister Klimt! You must have guessed that I invited you to discuss a commission, and, so, you came prepared!
Ferdinand (businesslike): I would like you to paint an unusual portrait of my wife, Adele.
Klimt: Unusual in what way?
Ferdinand: In a way that it will survive through a long, long time, at least a few hundred years…
Klimt: Sounds interesting… a few hundred years…
Adele: Is this commission of any interest to you?
Klimt: Recently, in the Church of San Vitale, in Ravenna, I saw a mosaic of Empress Theodora, dating back to the 9th century. It is a magnificent work, and it resembles you.
Adele (patronizing): This mosaic of Empress Theodora dates back to the 6th century, and it does not look like me at all.
Klimt: Maybe it does date back to the 6th century. I am not very good at remembering numbers.
Ferdinand: Me – to the contrary. I have an excellent memory for numbers.
Adele (quietly, and ironically): Especially, when dealing with sugar prices…
Ferdinand: So, are you telling me that a “Portrait of My Wife” will last for centuries, like the mosaic of Empress Theodora?
Klimt: I do not know that. I am more interested in depicting important events in life — conception, pregnancy, birth, youth, midlife, old age…
Ferdinand: But human beings you depict are mortal, and their memories of the important events in their lives will die with them!
Klimt: This is exactly why I try to capture them on canvas…
Ferdinand (excitedly): And this is why I want you to paint a portrait of my wife that will live for at least 1400 years, just like the mosaic of Empress Theodora!
Klimt: But I am not God!
Ferdinand: I am not asking you to create another Universe, Mr. Klimt. Although, why not! A human being is also a Universe of sorts!
Klimt: This is exactly what makes painting a portrait so complicated…
Ferdinand: But The Bible was written by human beings, and the Sistene Madonna was painted by a man, and these masterpieces have survived the centuries! You, too, can paint a portrait of my wife as a Madonna of The Austro-Hungarian Empire, and this portrait will live forever!
Klimt: You are making my task a very difficult one!
Ferdinand: I make my own task a very difficult one too – I run the best sugar factory in Europe.
Klimt: Will this factory also last fourteen hundred years?
Ferdinand (thinking): I am not sure of that. A sugar factory may break into pieces just like the sugar it produces. But the portrait I am asking you to paint should survive… an apocalypse.
Klimt (contemplating something): But this work may take a few years…
Ferdinand: We are in no rush. Your advance will be a very good one, so that you need not worry about money.
Klimt: A painting like this may call for extra expenses.
Ferdinand: For example?
Klimt: I would like to use gold leaf to decorate the dress…
Ferdinand: If you are planning to decorate my wife’s dress with gold thus drawing attention to the bottom part of the painting, then I will buy her a necklace in the hope of balancing attention to the top part as well.
Adele (with irony): There, the two of you have already divided me up. All that is left for me is to ‘fold my arms’ across my chest in order to draw attention to the middle section.
Klimt (ignoring her remark): The best places to get a necklace are in Holland and Belgium, the best jewelers are there.
Ferdinand: Do you have a preference for a particular style of the necklace?
Klimt: I will sketch it for you.
Adele: Since it appears that in this bargain, I am sorry, painting, I am ‘responsible for arms and hands’, I believe, it is a good idea to decorate them with a pair of matching bracelets.
Ferdinand: It sounds like I might have to sell off a part of my factory.
Klimt: Do not fret, Mr. Bloch, I will paint small bracelets.
Ferdinand: I believe, you have already done something like this for The Academy of Fine Arts?
Klimt: No, fortunately, I am not a member of The Academy.
Adele: Why wouldn’t you join The Academy?
Klimt: I cannot stand pronouncing ‘death sentences’ to artists and students, and tell mediocrity that it is mediocre.
Adele: How often do you get to play the judge?
Klimt: Yesterday, speaking of it, while I was at the Academy taking care of some personal business, someone, with a scruffy mustache, approached me, screaming that his membership application was rejected — for the second time, and he tried shoving his drawings right into my face…
Ferdinand: What did you tell him?
Klimt: I told him that it was a work of a genius without even looking at the drawings! I wanted him to leave me alone! And he ran away screaming hysterically: ‘Klimt himself praised me!’
Ferdinand: You are absolutely correct, Mr. Klimt! Maybe, it is better to allow mediocrity into The Academy.
Klimt: Why is it better?
Ferdinand: Because there is nothing worse than envy and unrelenting malice, especially among the ‘simple ordinary people’, who believe that they are capable too…
Adele (passionately): If you think University admission should be open to mediocre males, than talented women should all the more have a right to study in Universities!
Ferdinand: And for now, women only have the right to be studied by Dr. Freud.
Klimt: I attended one of Dr. Freud’s lectures, and I found his interpretation of dreams and our sexual instincts ingrained in our sub-conscious to be a very interesting subject.
Ferdinand (somewhat shy): Speaking of this, Mr. Klimt, I have a small request…
Klimt: Yes, please…
Ferdinand: I would prefer that this ‘Portrait of My Wife’ does not display… how I should put it… as much nudity as your portrait of Judith.
Klimt: Of course, I understand. I will prepare a sketch, a few sketches, and only after your approval I will start painting.
Ferdinand: Wonderful! Do you work like this with all your clients?
Klimt: Yes, it is important for me that a client is happy with my work. Then, they will come back with more commissions…
Ferdinand (laughing): With a philosophy like this you could be a manager at my factory.
Klimt: Thank you. It is a very sweet offer, Mr. Bloch, but I shall remain an artist.
Ferdinand: Do you mean to tell me that you prefer to be an artist of moderate means rather than a wealthy factory manager?
Klimt: Your sugar dissolves over time without leaving as much as a trace, and so does your factory manager, while my paintings, I hope, will live long after I am gone…
Ferdinand (happily): I see now that our goals are the same! So, I should go and ask my secretary to prepare a contract.
Klimt: I would like to ask you and your wife to allow me to make a few sketches right away. I hope you do not mind?
Ferdinand: Adele, what do you think?
Adele (hastily): I should change, then…
Ferdinand (with irony): You have not made a decision, whether you will pose or not, but you want to go change?
Klimt: There is no need to change. You may remain seated in this arm-chair, just as you are now. You may continue smoking, these will be preliminary sketches.
Ferdinand: I do not want to distract you (leaves the room).
Klimt opens his sketchpad, and starts drawing.
December, 1924. The same living room in the house of Ferdinand and Adele in Vienna. There are two old master paintings on both side walls, and on the back wall a large painting ‘The Golden Adele’.
Adele, who is not feeling well, is smoking, resting on the sofa… Adele’s teenage niece Maria, happy, runs in and kisses her aunt.
Maria (worried): How are you feeling, Aunt Adele?
Adele (in a weak voice): I am not well, Maria.
Maria (joyfully): There will be a New Year’s Dance in my school! It will be my first ever Ball!
Adele: Well, then you will need a ball gown!
Maria: This is what I wanted to talk to you about!
Adele: Honestly, I am not much of an expert when it comes to ball gowns. Your mother knows a lot more about this subject than me.
Maria: But she wants my dress to be tailored at the waist, and I prefer a straight one!
Adele: It makes no difference. You will look beautiful in either one!
Maria: And the décolleté? How big should it be?
Adele (firmly): Maria, you are too young to talk about a décolleté, you are still in school!
Maria: It can be just like yours in the painting!
Adele (reflecting): I am thinking of donating this painting to The Austrian National Gallery after my death, you must hurry if you want to copy this dress.
Maria: Why? You are not dying yet!
Adele: Who knows? Besides, you need to have a dress like this made as soon as possible for your first Dance!
Maria: Yes, you are right! But, then, I will need the jewelry as well: a necklace, a bracelet, and a pair of earrings.
Adele: I can see, Maria that you have a good handle on these things.
Maria (with childish insistence): There is nothing to handle! My breasts are small; therefore, I need a large necklace, so men will have something to look at!
Adele (ironically): And if you had big breasts? Would a small necklace suffice?
Maria: Of course! A small necklace would be sufficient… Men would not be able take their eyes away as it is!
Both burst out laughing.
Adele: Do you have a boyfriend yet?
Maria: Well, he is not a boyfriend, but he has invited me to The Dance!
Adele: Have I met him?
Maria: Yes, you have! Remember, last summer I came to visit you with a friend. He is a student at a Boys’ School near mine, and he often walks me home after classes. He is seriously interested in art, and we came by to look at your paintings by Klimt.
Adele: Yes, I do remember him… We talked about art history. He is a well read and a very well mannered young man… He asked me about Klimt, and, if I remember correctly, he wanted to write a paper about him. His name is Alois, I believe…
Maria: Yes, Auntie, Alois Kunst.
Adele: Well, Maria, I am happy you are attracted to sophisticated young men.
Maria (again confusedly): Auntie Adele, may I try on your necklace?
Adele: Of course. You will find it in my secretaire, with the bracelet and the earrings as well.
Maria (approaches the secretaire, opens a drawer, takes the necklace and puts it on; she admires herself in the mirror): It is so beautiful, Auntie Adele!
Adele: I want to share a secret with you…
Maria (childishly excited): I do love secrets!
Adele: I have been watching ‘The Golden Adele’ for 17 years, and I have noticed that this painting can predict destinies of people.
Maria: Predict destinies?
Adele: If you look into her eyes for a long time from a certain spot, and then shift your gaze to the corners of her lips, you may, then, see whether she is smiling or frowning…
Maria: When did you discover this?
Adele: Shortly before Klimt died…
Maria: Does it only predict sad events?
Adele: No, it predicts happy events as well…
Maria: And where is this spot?
Adele: Step back, Maria. A little more, now a bit to the right! Step back. Stop!
Ferdinand: What is happening here? Maria, you look like the Princess de Milo!
Adele: It is the Venus de Milo, and the princess is Dulcinea del Toboso…
Maria (interrupting, capriciously): No, no, Auntie Adele, I like this name very much – ‘Princess de Milo’
Adele: So what…
Maria: Uncle Ferry, from now on please call me ‘Princess de Milo’, and I will call you ‘My Don Quixote’! Agreed?
Ferdinand: Agreed! So what is happening here?
Adele: We were planning Maria’s first ever New Year’s Dance!
Ferdinand: Oh, I see! This necklace looks lovely on you, Princess de Milo!
Maybe, someday, Adele and I will give it to you… as a wedding present, for example!
Maria: It is a good incentive, My Don Quixote, to get married soon…
Adele: There is no need for a rush, Maria; the necklace is not running away from you… You may wear it to The Dance for now, and then it will be yours when you get married.
Maria (ecstatic): It will be mine when I get married?!
Adele: You will always have whatever you want in life. When you were born, your mother wanted to name you simply Maria, and it was me, who came up with your full name Maria Victoria, so that you always came out victorious!
She sighs, and, then, pauses.
Adele: And now, go, I need to talk with your Uncle Ferry alone.
Maria, excited, runs off, screaming ‘ I do have a ball gown! I do have a necklace!’
Adele: Ferry, I wanted to discuss my will with you.
Ferdinand: Why a will, all of a sudden?
Adele: I have had some concerns lately, and I went to see a doctor… After that, last January I prepared a will.
Ferdinand: Is something wrong with you?
Adele: I do not know yet…
Ferdinand: So, what is in your will?
Adele: I want to leave 50,000 Krona to the Vienna societies ‘Kinderfreunde’ and ‘Bereitschaft’.
Ferdinand: I understand, it is a wise decision. You have been helping them all these years.
Adele: I would like my jewelry to be distributed between my nieces. This necklace, as we agreed, will be a wedding gift to Maria Victoria.
Ferdinand: The way she is going, we will not have to wait long…
Adele: I would like to donate my books to the Vienna Library for Young People, and to the Vienna People’s Library. I have a lot of good books on philosophy, art history, history, psychology, and politics. Many of these books are signed by their authors….
Ferdinand: These books signed by the authors I would have preferred to keep for me…
Adele: But, Ferry, you are always so busy, you would not have the time to read them.
Ferdinand: I will only read the authors’ dedications… It will not take too much of my time.
(With determination): Books, signed by their authors, I want to keep for myself!
Adele: Good, as you wish.
After a pause:
I know, Ferry, it will be difficult for you to part with our favorite paintings. Therefore, I ask you to make sure that it is only after your death that two of my portraits and four landscapes by Klimt are given to The Austrian National Gallery.
Ferdinand: Why don’t you keep them in the family, and pass them on to our nephews and nieces, to Karl, Robert, Leopold, Louise, Maria… We have no children of our own, but, Thank God, we have plenty of nephews and nieces!
Adele: You know, Ferry, I would like these paintings by Klimt to be seen by all people, not only by our family members.
Ferdinand: Adelke, of course! I, too, believe they should be exhibited in a museum to be seen by the people. But, at the same time, they can stay in the family.
Adele (annoyed): My God, Ferry, you are haggling with me, as if I was your partner in the sugar business.
Ferdinand (peacefully): Adelke, you are, indeed, my partner in the sugar business, it is because my life with you is so sweet… I cannot imagine my life without you… Only work will keep me going… and, maybe, this painting!
After a pause
Adele: Ferry, I feel guilty! I blame myself for not giving you the children you wanted so badly.
Ferdinand: You should not feel guilty, Adelke! You also wanted children, but God did not grant our wish.
Adele (almost screaming): Why wouldn’t HE give us children? Why? If a woman has two still births, and the third child dies two days after birth – then, I must be guilty before God of something and before you too! (She cries)
Ferdinand (sits down on the sofa next to his wife, and tries to calm her down): Maybe, it is his way of punishing us for our wealth… Do not cry, Adelke, you are not guilty, neither before God, nor before me…
1938-1940. The same living room in the house of Ferdinand and Adele in Vienna. There are two Old Master paintings hanging on side walls, and on the back wall there is a large painting by Klimt, ‘The Golden Adele 1’. There is a desk in the middle of the room with a telephone. Maria is at the desk, writing. The telephone rings. Maria, disturbed, winces, and, then, frightened, answers the phone.
Maria (quietly, guarded): Maria Altman speaking… My, they will be here in 5 minutes? But I am not ready!
On the other end, the line is disconnected. A dial tone is heard. Maria jumps out of her chair, rushes to the portrait, and quickly starts gathering the papers on the desk. A man in civilian clothes walks in – it is Alois Kunst.
A man in civilian clothes (slowly, and with irony): Good afternoon, Frau Altman!
Maria (mechanically, not looking at the man who just entered, keeps on gathering her papers):
(Then, she looks up, studies the man, and exclaims): Alois, is it you?! I recognized your voice…
The man in civilian clothes (proudly): Please allow me to introduce myself – member of the State Secret Police; Alois Kunst (flashes an identity card).
Maria looks at him, without saying a word.
The man in civilian clothes (formally): I am here with a special assignment from The Fuehrer! The Fuehrer wishes to personally view the paintings by Gustav Klimt.
Maria: Why so specifically by Klimt?
Alois (quietly, looking around and closing the front door); Because Klimt was the only one, who praised The Fuehrer’s drawings, when he was rejected, for the second time, by the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.
Maria: What does this mean – to personally view? Is he coming here to view them?
The man in civilian clothes: No, Frau Altman. This is, certainly, a case when a mountain comes to Mohammed!
Maria: Alois, what does it all mean?
The man in civilian clothes: It means, that two of my subordinates are waiting outside by the car (points behind his back), and they will remove these paintings and take them to Berlin, for The Fuehrer to view them personally!
Maria: And what will happen after that, Alois?
The man in civilian clothes: If the Fuehrer likes them, they will be included in his collection, and will remain in Berlin.
Maria (with hope in her voice): What if he does not like them?
Alois (quietly): If he does not wish to keep them, then, most likely, they will be sold for next to nothing, or maybe even be transferred for free to the Austrian National Gallery.
Maria: Sold! Who will be selling them? The Fuehrer? How can he sell what does not belong to him? These paintings belong to my uncle!
Alois (looking around him): Quiet, Maria! They may hear us…
The man in civilian clothes (speaking loudly): According to the Aryanization Program, these paintings are now property of the Third Reich!
Maria: But this is robbery!
Alois: Would you prefer they (pointing at the door) auctioned them off right here, in this house, to the jubilation of your neighbors? Nowadays, taking things straight from apartments and houses of the neighbors, that have disappeared, is a very popular activity in Vienna! It is rather inexpensive and very convenient, as you do not have to go very far!
Maria: An auction right here, in the house of Adele and Ferdinand?!
The man in civilian clothes: Yes, an auction, right here, in this house! Everything will be sold to whoever comes by, any passerby, or your neighbors – the furniture, vases, dishes, tapestries, and ‘The Golden Adele’ too! It could be sold for 5 Reichsmark to the local butcher, Hans Meier, and he would hang it in his store down the street!
Maria: What horror… and shame.
The man in civilian clothes: Maybe, you would prefer us to send you to Dachau in your husband’s footsteps?
Maria: Alois, I wanted to talk to you about Fritz as well.
The man in civilian clothes (peacefully): We are not the first to expropriate property and, specifically, art collections, from former owners.
Maria: Who else had come up with such a brilliant plan?
Alois: Take, for example, the Bolsheviks. Only 20 years ago they confiscated paintings from the famous Russian industrialists Shchukin and Morozov. Lenin simply signed a decree to nationalize art collections, and that was it! Remember, I am an art historian, I know what I am talking about.
Maria: Are you planning to do the same?
The man in civilian clothes: No, we are not as primitive, as the Bolsheviks. Our attorney Friedrich Fuehrer is in the process of preparing a case about your uncle’s tax evasion.
Maria: Quite a name for an attorney! So, it is Fuehrer against Bloch-Bauer!
The man in civilian clothes: Exactly! Fuehrer against Bloch-Bauer! And Bloch-Bauer has no chances!
Maria (quietly): We shall see…
Alois (quietly): We shall see, if we live long enough…
Maria: What taxes is this about? This was the absolute best enterprise in all of Europe!
The man in civilian clothes: We have already confiscated his sugar factory, and all of his possessions, including his summer estate in Bohemia, his collection of paintings, porcelain, antique tapestries, etc. And all of this is a compensation for taxes unpaid by the sugar magnate Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer.
Maria: What do taxes have to do with this?
Alois: This trick is as old as the world we live in, it has even been mentioned in ancient manuscripts. It has worked without a flaw until now, and it will work well in the future. Those in power resort to ‘unpaid tax collection’ when they want to get their hands on somebody else’s wealth.
Maria: And what happens after that?
The man in civilian clothes: After that, the state auctions off the confiscated possessions….
Alois (quietly): …At greatly reduced prices, and to the buyers, approved in advance. For example, your uncle’s sugar factory will go to Clemens, a well known investor, very close to the leaders of The Third Reich.
Maria: And his paintings?
The man in civilian clothes: His paintings, as I have already explained to you, will be viewed by The Fuehrer himself.
Maria (frightened): Do you think he will like ‘The Golden Adele’?
The man in civilian clothes: No, I do not think so! Your aunt’s eyes are too semitic.
Maria (sighs with relief): Thank God!
The man in civilian clothes: Whatever he does not like, will be purchased by The Austrian National Gallery for one Reichsmark, and it will be exhibited to the general public. Everything for the People! Everything in the name of the People! Everything on behalf of the People! How can it be unlawful, if it is done for the People?
Maria: No, no, Mr. Kunst, it is absolutely lawful!
After a pause:
Maria: About five years ago, during an avalanche in the Alps, my older brother rescued somebody from The Fuehrer’s family, I believe, it was his nephew.
Alois: Oh, this information is very important to us. Find out precisely who it was that he rescued, and let me know. I will bring it up in the right places, and maybe, you will be allowed to leave.
Maria: Alois, is this really happening? I have lost all hope…
The man in civilian clothes: Everything becomes real, especially when tremendous wealth is involved.
Maria (carefully and quietly): Alois, do you think it is possible to bring Fritz back from Dachau?
I know this one sign…
The man in civilian clothes: A sign? What sign? Nonsense!
Maria: My Aunt Adele told me before she died that if you view the portrait from a certain location, you may see Adele either smiling or frowning…
The man in civilian clothes: So what?
Maria: This is a sign of whether your life will take a positive or a negative turn…
Alois (doubtfully): And where is this location?
Maria: Take a couple of steps back, a little more. Now, step to the right, more to the right, back, and stop!
Alois: I see her smiling… How about you?
Maria: I see her smiling too… Then, Fritz will be freed!
The man in civilian clothes (sounding annoyed): I told you already – it may become possible, after you go to Berlin, and, in front of a notary give up your share of Altman textile enterprises. Fritz will have to do the same, and, most importantly, his brother Bernhard, as the principal owner, will do so as well. Then, you will be both free of your property, and of Dachau.
Maria: Of course, I will do as you tell me! No enterprise is worth the life of a man! Thank you, Alois, for your good advice and help!
The man in civilian clothes: This is not an advice, this is an order!
After a pause
Maria (reflecting): Alois, how do you think our lives would have turned, had I said ‘Yes’ then, in the café “Fledermaus” and we married?
Alois: I think we would have had this portrait removed and hidden in a good place a long time ago!
Alois: Quiet, they may hear us (points at the door).
Maria (keeps laughing): Seriously, Alois?
Alois: Seriously, it could have never happened for one very simple reason: your parents came from very wealthy families, and mine were simple elementary school teachers.
Maria: Do you remember the first time I brought you here, into this living room, and, after a conversation with my Aunt Adele you asked for her permission to touch the frame of this painting?
Alois: Yes, I do. She said that Klimt had gotten the frame from his brother Ernst a long time ago. And then, when I saw this necklace on you (points at the portrait), I decided to stay close to you, and not leave you alone even for a minute.
Maria: What did the necklace have to do with this?
Alois: There were these rough guys at The Dance, like Werner Koch and Kurt Steinmeier. They were capable of anything. They are both in the SS now, proud of their uniform and their medals.
(After a pause) …There is also something else I remember…
Maria: What is it?
Alois: Remember, on a Friday night you invited me to a home concert, right here, in this living room?
Maria: No, I do not…
Alois: Your father played a Stradivarius cello…
Maria: Yes, it belonged to Rothschild, and he let papa borrow it. But my father was a mediocre musician… (Ironically), and so, your… colleagues took it away back in April. I am sure they play it much better…
The man in civilian clothes (not noticing the irony, mesmerized by his memories): I still have this divine sound in my head…
Maria: How long have you been… with them?
Alois: Almost two years… What could I do, Maria? What can one simple ordinary man do in The Third Reich? Either be sent to a concentration camp, just like your husband, or, collaborate… The Third Reich does not offer any other options!
Maria (pensively and slowly): One simple ordinary man has risen to the very top in The Third Reich…
What does your collaboration involve?
The man in civilian clothes: My main task is to tour Europe selecting paintings from museums and private collections for The Fuehrer’s own collection. Soon, we are going to Paris, and there will be plenty of work there!
Maria: I can only imagine your work there…
Alois: The Fuehrer has a grand plan to build a museum specifically for this collection. It will be the greatest collection of art in the history of mankind!
Maria: It will be the largest concentration camp for the works of art in the history of mankind…
Alois: Maria, do not exaggerate! Of course, these paintings will belong to The Fuehrer, but everybody will be able to view them!
Maria: Everybody, except my husband… (After a pause): Tell me, Alois, how you, such a refined person, a lover of art and classical music, how can you collaborate with… them?
Alois: You know, Maria, it was difficult in the beginning. And, then, I understood, that The Fuehrer presented me with a unique opportunity to hold in my hands paintings I could previously only dream of or, at best, read about in books. (Continues with excitement): My hands have held Rembrandt, Velasquez, Goya, Durer and other distinguished masters. Over two years I was even able to put together a small collection for myself. Of course, it is of a lesser importance. Would you like to see it?
Maria (ignoring his question): How did you say it, Alois: ‘The Fuehrer presented me with an opportunity’?
The man in civilian clothes: Of course, what would have come of me, if not for him? A modest employee in a provincial museum…
Maria: Last year, right before Christmas, I unexpectedly ran into Kurt Steinmeier.
Alois: Really? Where is Kurt now?
Maria: He came home to visit his family over Christmas. I ran into him by accident at Gertrude’s, remember, she was my girlfriend he was chasing while we were still in school. Kurt was very drunk, and he told me almost the same words about The Fuehrer, only in a slightly different sense.
Alois (cautiously): In what sense?
Maria: He said that ‘ The Fuehrer has presented him with an opportunity to kill with impunity’. And that this impunity brings unbelievable euphoria, because you dispose of human lives, just like God. He said he could have shot me right there, without any consequences. Gertrude grabbed him, and pushed him onto a couch, and he momentarily fell asleep.
Alois: What do I have to do with this? I am not killing anybody!
Maria (quietly): It is not my place to tell you, Alois, what you have to do with this! Nobody ever wants to hear the truth…
Alois: No, tell me! I do want to know the truth.
Maria: Remember, when you proposed to me, I did not say either ‘yes’, or ‘no’. You kept on insisting…
Alois: I still insist on knowing the truth: what do I have to do with all this? (Almost screaming) Is it my fault, what is happening around us? Did I start this? What can I change, one simple ordinary man?
Maria (wavering): Maybe, I should not be telling you this, Alois, but the truth is that Kurt with impunity disposes of people’s lives, and you, with the same impunity, dispose of their possessions. Both of you work in the same factory, but at different assembly lines.
(After a pause)
Alois (philosophically, thinking of something): If only it was so simple, as you are saying: different assembly lines of the… death factory. Kurt is a bad guy; Alois is just as bad, maybe a little better. But, our goals, Maria, yours and mine, are, basically, the same.
Maria: Our goals?
Alois: Your goal is to protect your love and, at any cost, assure your husband’s release from Dachau.
Maria: Yes, precisely! What is your goal, Alois?
Alois: My goal is, as well, to protect my love, and spare nothing for its rescue!
Therefore, you see, our goals are identical!
Maria: Is she also in danger?
Alois: Yes, she is in great danger (looks back, checking the door), in these uncertain times anything may happen…
Maria: I do not understand! Who is she? Is she not an ‘Aryan’ either, like me?
Alois: She is of mixed descent: her father is Austrian, and her mother is Jewish.
Maria: May I ask you for her name?
Alois (intently): Her name is ‘The Golden Adele’! My Love is this painting! (He is pointing at the portrait). And my goal is to safeguard my Love for future generations regardless of what it takes! It should live forever! Your Uncle thought he was signing a contract with Klimt, while in reality it was a contract with Eternity!
Maria (surprised): But it is only a painting, Alois!
Alois: You have no idea, who you were living next to!
Maria: What are you saying?
Alois: Your Uncle Ferdinand is no sugar manufacturer!
Maria: Then, who is he, if he is no sugar manufacturer?
Alois: He is… a carpenter!
Maria (ironically): A carpenter, who cannot hold a hammer to drive a nail into a wall?
Alois: He is Joseph, the carpenter…
Maria: I do not understand what you are saying, Alois.
Alois: And his wife, Adele, is Virgin Mary!
Maria: What do you mean by this?
Alois: I mean, that Klimt is no ordinary artist. He is the Creator himself! He is God!
Maria: Oh, now I get it! You remembered the biblical story…
Alois: You were living next to the ‘Holy Family’, and the painting is their child. This is why I pray to it!
Maria: This is sheer nonsense! You are delirious, Alois! You are mad….
Alois: Yes, Maria, for you – it is a painting, and for me – it is something divine! You grew up seeing it almost every day, as you stopped by your aunt’s after school. This was a part of your daily routine. You got used to it, as one gets used to a piece of furniture, like this desk, or these chairs and its magnitude now is beyond your comprehension! You are clueless, just like those two plebeians (points at the door)! All they want is to quickly pile everything up, and get back to Berlin!
Maria: Forgive them, God, for they know not what they do…
Alois (solemnly): Speaking of God! Here in Vienna, these days, I am the only person, who is aware of the danger ‘The Golden Adele’ is in! Maybe, it is my mission in this life, a mission of Mathew Levy, – to remove her from the crucifix, and end her torment… It is not an accident that I am here. I have been sent by God to rescue her!
(The man in civilian clothes resolutely approaches the painting on the left and takes it by the corner)
The man in civilian clothes: You should help me now, Maria… Magdalena!
Maria (surprised): You are asking me to help you?
The man in civilian clothes: Take the other corner, and help me take it down… from The Cross.
Maria: You must be joking, Alois! You are asking me to help you so that I become an accomplice… in the crime?
Alois: Of course not, Maria! I simply want to avoid having those plebeians (points at the door), who are clueless about art, grabbing this treasure with their paws! When I was younger, touching the frame even slightly with my little finger made me happy beyond description!
Maria slowly and indecisively comes up to the painting and takes it by the corner. Together, they remove the painting from the wall, and set it on the floor.
The man in civilian clothes (scornfully): I should go and get my assembly line of the death factory started… I will send in my legionnaires to carry out… the body of Christ.
After a pause, coldly:
Be careful with your choice of expressions, Maria! Even over the telephone! Somebody may hear you on another assembly line of the death factory, and you will find yourself in a barrack next to your husband’s. Then, none of you will get out… (with a smirk) from this paradise.
He leaves. Two other men in civilian clothes walk in hastily, pick up the painting and carry it out.
Maria sits at the desk, holding her head with both hands.
After a short pause, the telephone rings.
Maria (cautiously answers, speaking softly): Maria Altman speaking.
Voice on the other end of the line: Good day, Princess de Milo!
Maria: You have reached a wrong number! (She hangs up the phone)
The telephone rings again.
Maria: Maria Altman speaking.
Voice on the other end of the line: Please, Princess de Milo, do not hang up! This is your Don Quixote…
Maria (having remembered something): Ah, Uncle Ferry…
Voice on the other end of the line (cutting her short, and speaking emphatically): This… is… your… Don… Quixote… spea…king…!
Maria (joyous): I get it, I get it… Don Quixote, where are you?
Voice on the other end of the line: Still on this Earth. I am not leaving until this bacchanalia is over. How are you doing, Princess de Milo?
Maria: Papa died in the beginning of July…
Voice on the other end of the line: How did it happen?
Maria: They came, when papa and mama were not home, and ordered the servant to bring ‘Rothschild’s gift’ threatening to raid the whole house. The servant complied and gave them the cello. Papa was very upset.
A voice on the other end of the line: How did they know that you had a Stradivarius cello?
Maria (thinking about something): Do you remember my friend from school, Alois Kunst?
Voice on the other end of the line: No, I do not! You had so many friends in school; I cannot possibly remember them all…
Maria (sadly): All my childhood friends must have become Gestapo informants.
Voice on the other end of the line: How is your mother?
Maria: She is ok… A week after that they came again, and took all of her jewelry, then all of Luisa’s, and all of mine.
Voice on the other end of the line (concerned): And Adele’s necklace, that was my gift for your wedding, they took it also?
Maria: Yes, they took it also. They threw everything into one pile, then swept the pile into a huge bag, and took off in a truck. Two days later Fritz was arrested. I went to the jail to bring him some food, and they only accepted it because I am his wife…
Voice on the other end of the line (concerned): Where is he now?
Maria: Fritz is in a concentration… no, in a labor camp, in the vicinity of Munich, in Dachau…
Voice on the other end of the line (after a pause): Write a letter stating that you relinquish your share in Altman textile enterprises, and send it to Gestapo in Berlin. Then, maybe, Fritz will be set free. There have already been cases like this, and more are happening… They call this ‘aryanization’…
Maria: I have to go there personally and sign this in front of a notary.
Voice on the other end of the line: Be careful, Princess de Milo… (after a pause, ironically) Is there any other ‘good’ news you can tell me about?
Maria: Today they came for your paintings and took them away to Berlin. I stopped by Elizabeth Strasse to check on the house, the phone rang almost immediately, and a few minutes later they were here. Most likely, the house is under surveillance, and, it is very likely, they are looking for you, so that they can arrest you and force you to give them your factory.
Voice on the other end of the line (after a moment of silence, decisively): Listen to me very carefully, Princess de Milo, this is very important for you: I will prepare a statement…
Abruptly, the line is lost in half sentence, and only a dial tone is heard…
Maria (agitated): Hello, hello! I cannot hear you, Don Quixote! What statement will you write, Don Quixote? Hello, Ferdinand, hello, Ferry, I cannot hear you… Hello…
Maria puts down the telephone, and again, sits at the table holding her head with both hands. She is crying. Telephone dial tone is heard…
1998. The Belvedere Museum in Vienna. ‘The Golden Adele’ by Klimt is on the back wall of the room, there are other paintings by Klimt on other walls of the room. Two men, talking with each other, enter the room: an art expert, a consultant to the museum, Alois Kunst (with a folder) and a journalist, Hubertus Czernin (with a photo camera around his neck and a briefcase in his hands).
Kunst (continuing the conversation, softly): You are absolutely correct, Mr. Czernin. Not only Schiele was learning from his great mentor Klimt, but the great master was also influenced by his protégé.
Czernin: This often happens in life, first we are teaching somebody, and then, they outgrow us, take over and take all the credit…
Kunst (guardedly): What exactly do you mean?
Czernin: I mean (hesitates a little)… light and perspective in Klimt’s works and in Schiele’s…
Kunst (with a sigh of relief): You are right. However, a lot depends on the lighting as well!
They approach ‘The Golden Adele’
Czernin: Have you seen this painting under a different light?
Kunst (spontaneously): Of course, long before the war… (He stops himself abruptly)
Czernin (ironically): Well, before the war even daylight was different…
Kunst: Yes, you are correct; everything was different before the war… I come here, to the Belvedere, like to a temple, every week, and pray to her, as if she was an icon!
Czernin: How was it displayed before the war? Just like today?
Kunst (stammering a bit): N…no, it hung across from the window, bathed in natural light, falling straight at it…
Czernin: Since when is it in The Belvedere?
Kunst (hesitating): I believe… since somewhere around 1936, if I am not mistaken… Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer gave it to the museum according to his wife’s will…
Czernin: Yes, this was so long ago, that a lot is forgotten. This is why I would like to review the documents related to the acquisition of this painting by the museum!
Kunst (assuredly): Nobody will show them to you, and will provide you neither with photo copies, nor with photographs! You are well known as a journalist who investigates the dirty past, looking for skeletons in Austrians’ closets, and causing scandals…
Czernin (modestly): Where did you get that? I am the most ordinary journalist.
Kunst (confidently): Yes, of course. It was you who brought up the case of the pervert cardinal Hans Hermann Groer charged with sexually abusing boys and young monks over a period of 40 years.
Is this a worthy subject for an investigation?
Czernin (matter-of-factly): Of course, it is so interesting – you take a peek into a monk’s bedroom, and this is what you find!
Kunst (on the attack): And who dug up the Wehrmacht past of Kurt Waldheim? He was a great secretary of the United Nations! And then, all he wanted was to be just as worthy a chancellor of the Republic of Austria! It was you who got in his way with your quasi-revelations?
Czernin: Why quasi-revelations?
Kunst: It was easy for you to be a ‘student-rebel’ in 1968! Or, better yet, now, in 1998, during democracy, you, certainly, are a very brave journalist! What would you have done, Mr. Brave Journalist, if you were in Kurt Waldheim’s shoes in 1938 under the Nazis?
Czernin (contemplating): It is hard to tell…
Kunst: What is so hard? It is very simple: you would have joined the Gestapo, and you would have been the best Gestapo officer ever!
Czernin: Why do you think so?
Kunst: It is your personality: to dig for and uncover the people’s most hidden, dirtiest secrets… Just what was needed there!
Czernin: And had I refused?
Kunst: You would have refused to join the Gestapo? Then you would have gone to Dachau… Or, do you think you would have been writing your articles against Nazis? It is much different than writing now against Jorg Haider! They would have warned you once, and only because you are a nobleman, a count, and, then, they would have shot you dead in a quiet street in Vienna.
Czernin: But nobody threatened Waldheim…
Kunst: Kurt simply stood up to his responsibilities, like thousands of other Austrians! No more, no less! What other choice does a simple ordinary man have under a dictatorship?
Czernin: The first choice was to control one’s zeal and to keep a low profile during the Nazi years, and the second one should have been not to run for the UN secretary general position after the war! I know this kind of ‘simple ordinary people’: they always go with the flow of power, regardless of who is in power, and they always come out ahead!
Kunst: As an Austrian, and, as an aristocrat, you should be ashamed of yourself for speaking like this! Austrians became the first innocent victims of the Nazis in March of 1938, while the rest of Europe was still free!
Czernin: You know, if you have forgotten how these ‘innocent victims’ were overjoyed to greet their compatriot, Adolf Hitler, upon his return from Germany, you may refresh your memory by watching documentaries of that period.
Kunst: As a journalist, you know better than me, that anything is possible in the movies, even the documentary ones. Austrians have nothing to do with this!
Czernin: The population of Austria constituted only 8% of the population of The Third Reich, but among the SS this percentage was double – this is what I call the extra zeal. Forty percent of all concentration camp guards were also Austrian…
Kunst (ironically): You are a good accountant, but not a very good Austrian! Austrians are very pragmatic people – they believe it is better to be a guard in a concentration camp, than take a bullet in the forehead on the Eastern front! Maybe you disagree with this too?
Czernin: I am also a historian. And history is not only words; it is numbers as well…
Kunst: So what do numbers tell you?
Czernin: That our compatriots are very adaptable to any form of the government. Unfortunately, our country did not carry out the denazification to the same extent, as Germany did. The allied forces did not view Austrians as criminals, and, thus, all of our Austrian Nazis have remained in their old cushy positions after the war.
Kunst (indignant): It is you, a member of the most ancient and noble Austrian family, who is telling me this…
Czernin: It is a well known fact that the so-called ‘simple ordinary people’ adjusted themselves to the Nazi regime a lot more successfully, than the elite. They even managed to put together little nest eggs for their families…
Kunst (ironically): Of course, it was your blue blood and your pride, that did not allow you, the elite,…
Czernin (interrupting him): …Excuse me, please; what did you do during those glorious years?
Kunst (proudly): I have always served only the purest of the arts!
Czernin: And how exactly did you manage to keep the art ‘pure’ during those ‘dirty’ times?
Kunst (proudly, again): My interest was never in politics and political regimes, but only in the arts! I was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, lived in the times of the Weimar Republic, then during the Nazi years, now, during democracy. Do you know what left the strongest impression on my life?
Czernin: Please, do tell!
Kunst: The brightest event of my entire life was the biggest ever exhibition of Klimt’s works in the history of art. It took place in Austria in 1943, and practically all of Klimt’s works assembled from all over Europe were presented there, including those, that burned at the end of the war. I travelled from Paris to see it. Nobody will ever see something like this again! This is what the purity of the art means – it is beyond its time, and beyond politics.
Czernin: Interesting, what did they call ‘The Golden Adele’ during the Nazi years?
Kunst (disparagingly): It was called ‘A Portrait of a Woman in Gold’.
Czernin: Our compatriot and an art collector Adolf had also managed to put together the biggest collection of old master paintings and it took him only 5 years! And nobody will ever see a collection like this either…
Kunst (again, very disparagingly): Please, do not exaggerate! All I wanted to say was that political regimes hold no interest for me, there is only pure art, painting!
Czernin: So, what was your rank when you served the pure art? And on which front did you serve? The Eastern or the Western?
Kunst (confused, is trying to change direction of the conversation): Or now, for example, I do not care much about the negative publicity around Haider, who does nothing more than fight against our country being overtaken by foreigners…
Czernin: You see, Mr. Kunst, reporting on Haider, is how I earn a living that is all. An impoverished member of the ancient and noble Austrian family also needs to make a living…
Kunst: So, it is correct to say that journalism is the second oldest profession, right after prostitution. You will sell anything for money, even the prestige of the fatherland!
Czernin: It is me, who is busy trying to keep this prestige clean, while you and the like are only dirtying it more and more…
Kunst: You are keeping the image of Austria clean with your dirty journalism? First it is Groer, then Waldheim, then Haider… And now you are taking up with the ‘The Golden Adele’!
Czernin: If you believe I am publishing lies, you can take me to court!
Kunst: One very smart woman told me in 1938 that no one ever wants to uncover the truth! But you are still trying to find it…
Czernin: Journalism should be truthful and entertaining – otherwise people would stop buying newspapers and magazines. Readers always yearn for the true yet sensational news, disclosures, deposed heroes, and poignant facts! You should direct your complaints to the readers!
Kunst (ironically): Poignancy, generally speaking, is not beneficial to one’s health! And so, with your best health in mind, I, as a museum staff member, will be firmly opposed to you reviewing the original documents regarding provenance of this painting. This is the only way for us to safeguard our Austrian art treasures.
Czernin: You compared journalism and prostitution…
Kunst (peacefully): I did not mean to hurt your feelings. But this is the truth that you treasure more than anything in the world! You, journalists, will sell yourselves just as easily as prostitutes!
Czernin: And everybody knows that besides prostitution, there is also another word, restitution!
Kunst (with caution): Yes, it is a fact — these two words are derived from the same root.
Czernin: Yes, they sound alike, but their meanings are totally different. Restitution means return of the property to its owners. And, I am sure you are aware, that, finally, this year, Austria has adopted a law regarding restitution of art treasures.
Kunst (disparagingly): So what?
Czernin: According to this law, The Belvedere must provide me with documents regarding acquisition of the paintings by Gustav Klimt, that I requested.
Kunst: I am also familiar with another law passed right after the war that prohibits export of art treasures out of Austria.
Czernin: Do you think this law justifies keeping the surviving heirs unaware of their family wealth?
Kunst (joyously): There is no need for you to dig through the dust in the archives, Mr. Czernin.
The papers are in order. To spare your precious time and health I brought you a copy of the will of Adele Bloch-Bauer herself.
Czernin: And what does it say?
Kunst (takes a sheet of paper from his folder and beaming, reads it): ‘… Two of my portraits and four landscapes by Gustav Klimt, I ask that my husband, upon his death, transfers to the Austrian National Gallery. January 19, 1923’.
This is a handwritten will of Adele Bloch-Bauer herself.
Czernin: May I take a look at it, please?
Kunst (jubilant): Yes, of course, here you are! The painting is here at The Belvedere, in The Austrian National Gallery, in accordance with this will. Everything is perfectly legal!
Czernin: But this is only a request for the husband, who was the owner of the paintings, to bequeath them to The Austrian National Gallery. It is quite possible, that the husband did not want to follow his wife’s direction.
Kunst (emotionally, and with indignation): How can you even allow such a thought? Ferdinand was madly in love with Adele, he did everything for her, and he carried out all of her requests, even the most minute, without a word!
Czernin: You sound as if you witnessed this yourself!
Kunst (after a small pause and hesitation): Well, the truth is, since you are so eager to know it, – yes, I have witnessed it myself!
Czernin: Interesting, when did it happen?
Kunst (appearing lost in the past): When I was still a student in the Gymnasium, I visited the home of Bloch-Bauer a few times, at 18, Elizabeth Strasse.
Czernin: Interesting… And you can confirm that Ferdinand followed all of Adele’s instructions without as much as an argument?
Kunst (with determination): Yes, I can confirm this! One had to only see how his eyes filled with love when he looked at his wife, to be sure that he did everything she wished for!
Czernin: Of course, the gaze of a man in love is a very strong argument, but one cannot use it as a legal document. We need real documents.
Kunst (firmly): If necessary, I will provide a formal statement.
Czernin: Mr. Kunst, what do you think must have happened, that the loving husband changed his mind about executing the last will of his beloved wife?
Kunst (with a devious smile): May be, another woman…
Czernin: Yes, you are correct – there was another woman…
Kunst (surprised and worried): Interesting… I know nothing about it. It is only modern journalists like you, who can dig up something like this! Who is she? What is her name?
Czernin: See, how interested you are in Truth? And you said nobody needed it!
Kunst (worried): Do you really have documents to confirm this, or is it just another rumor?
Czernin: I really have copies of the documents right here (taps his hand on his briefcase).
Kunst (begging); Mr. Czernin, please, this is torture, tell me her name!
Czernin: Are you certain you want to know her name?
Kunst (hurriedly): Yes, yes, of course, I want to know!
Czernin: Her name is – ‘The Nazification of Austria’!
Kunst (sighs with relief): You are being facetious, Mr. Czernin, I thought it was something serious…
Czernin: It is very serious: this is exactly the reason why Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer rewrote his last will that canceled out all previous ones.
Kunst (cautiously): Another last will? When was it written?
Czernin (takes a document from his briefcase): It was signed in Zurich, on October 22, 1945, a month before Bloch-Bauer’s death.
Kunst (trying to keep his composure): What does it say? I would be curious to know…
Czernin (reads out loud):
“My last will:
Being of sound mind and of my own free will, without any coercion, I hereby declare:
Half of all of my assets I bequeath to my niece, Luisa Baronin Gutman, nee Bloch-Bauer, currently residing in Zagreb.
A quarter of my assets I bequeath to my niece Maria Altman, nee Bloch-Bauer, currently residing in Hollywood, California.
A quarter of my assets I bequeath to my nephew Robert Bentley (previously known as Bloch-Bauer) currently residing in Vancouver, Canada.
I wish my body to be cremated in the nearest crematorium, and my ashes to be buried next to the ashes of my late wife (if possible).
This is my last will, personally written and signed.
Zürich, October 22, 1945.
All my preceding wills are hereby rescinded.
Kunst, (after a short silence, firmly): Please tell me honestly, as an Austrian nobleman, Count Czernin, what are you trying to accomplish?
Czernin: I want to cleanse Austrian History from its murky past.
Kunst: And you believe that if ‘The Mona Lisa of Austria’ will go to America, it will constitute ‘cleansing of austrian history’? Is this your life’s dream?
Czernin (with deliberation): Who knows how much time we have left to live? My goal is to ensure, while I am alive, that this painting belongs to its rightful owners, and not to those who acquired stolen art treasures during the Nazi years!
(After a pause, with irony): And, finally, — it is my duty of a nobleman! A Count is responsible for the debts of his subjects…
Kunst (interrupting): You mean, you would like to cleanse you soul from debts?
Czernin: Yes, I would like to cleanse my country and my soul from their debts.
Kunst (humming an ancient Vagant tune, with sarcasm):
Life is only then a bliss,
When the Soul is Pure,
And A Soul that is Free of Sins,
It is also Free of Fear…
Czernin: Are you trying to say something?
Kunst: It is my duty to warn you, since our conversation is coming to an end: be careful, sometimes dreams do come true!
Czernin: Are you threatening me?
Kunst: Not at all, but it has been almost 60 years, as I believe… there is this one true sign…
Czernin: Oh, what is it?
Kunst: (firm, after a little deliberation): Step over here, and take a really good look, first into Adele’s eyes, and then move your gaze to the corners of her lips… Then, you will know what sign I am talking about!
Czernin steps over, as Kunst suggested, and looks at the painting.
Kunst (curious, after a pause): Is she smiling at you, or frowning?
Czernin (meditatively): Frankly, I do not see much difference compared to how I usually see ‘The Golden Adele’…
Kunst: This is because you are looking at it as just a painting…
Czernin: How do you look at it?
Kunst: I look at ‘The Golden Adele’ as one looks at an icon, and now I see that she is sad, although She used to smile at me in the past.
Czernin: And what does all of this mean?
Kunst (harshly, speaking very articulately): This means that if you, the Austrian nobleman, Count Hubertus Alexander Felix Franz Maria Czernin von und zu Chudenitz… God forbid!… succeed in taking this ‘Madonna of Austria’ away from the Austrian people, then God will not forgive neither one of us — neither you, nor me!
2006, California. A living room in the home of Maria Altman, Maria herself is seated in an armchair, Hubertus Czernin is studying books on her shelf, on the back wall of the living room there is a painting, ‘The Golden Adele’.
Altman: Are you finding something interesting there, on the bookshelf?
Czernin: Book titles. Tell me what you read, and I will tell you who you are!
Altman: Are you trying to learn about me more than the fact, that I am a niece of Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer?
Czernin: Of course, I want to know more. I am a journalist, and, as such, I am very curious. Would you consider, Frau Altman, to answer a few questions for me, although some of them may appear tricky?
Altman: Mr. Czernin, I am forever indebted to you, ever since you wrote to me of a new possibility to get back the Klimt paintings.
Czernin: Then, let’s start this interview with your childhood and your parents.
Altman: My mother was Adele’s sister, and my father, who was a well known attorney in Vienna, was the brother of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. I was the youngest of their 5 children.
Czernin: Do you remember anything in particular about your childhood years?
Altman: It may sound strange, but we lived a very modest life, I wore simple dresses, and was only allowed the inexpensive Italian ice-cream.
Czernin: Maybe, it only seemed inexpensive to you?
Altman: No, when I played in the school yard with other children, we all wanted to taste each other’s ice-cream, especially if it was chocolate, vanilla, or with nuts. I also liked chocolate, and was always getting a taste of my girlfriends’ ice-cream, but nobody wanted to taste my simple Italian ice-cream. It made me feel bad…
Czernin: What do you remember from your teenage years?
Altman: More than anything else, of course, I remember the chamber concerts at home, that usually happened on Fridays.
Czernin: Your father played cello. Was he a good musician?
Altman: He was not a professional musician, and his playing was somewhat mediocre, but he enjoyed it. Rothschild, through my uncle Ferry, lent him a Stradivarius cello. I can still hear that divine sound. The last one of those concerts took place the night Nazis took over Austria. I remember it like it was yesterday – it was an evening of music by Brahms.
Czernin: What do you remember about your Aunt Adele?
Altman: Adele was way ahead of her time. Today she definitely would have had a university education, back then it was not available to women. Her interests ranged from history, politics, philosophy, to art. She had her own circle of intellectual friends, a salon. She smoked, using a cigarette holder, and asked to be cremated – it was 1923, and this was unheard of…
Czernin: Would you say that her mind worked like that of a man?
Altman: Definitely. She was friendly with Stephan Zweig, Klimt, Kokoschka, and other important personalities of her time. But she was always very reserved, and rarely expressed strong emotions.
Czernin: Can you explain this?
Altman: I believe, the real reason was that she did not have children, although she gave birth three times. It is very traumatic for a woman…
Czernin (slightly embarrassed): May I ask you a personal question?
Altman: Mr. Czernin, you may ask me anything…
Czernin: Studying the picture, it becomes apparent, that the artist was in love with his model. Did Adele have an affair with Klimt?
Altman: I was too young to have a personal opinion on the subject. When I grew older, I asked my mother this very question, and she replied with indignation: ‘How could you imagine such a thing? It was strictly an intellectual friendship!’
Czernin: What sort of man was your Uncle Ferdinand?
Altman: Uncle Ferry was a very lively, energetic man, who loved 19th century Austrian art. Adele preferred modern art, and she befriended many Viennese artists. It was at her request, that Kokoschka painted a portrait of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer.
Czernin: What was their relationship like?
Altman: Uncle Ferry adored Adele. After her death, he moved all of the Klimt paintings into her room, and always placed there her favorite flowers. I used to visit this room on Sundays and on holidays, and I knew these Klimt paintings well.
Czernin: We know the present-day approximate value of ‘The Golden Adele’. I wonder how much did Bloch-Bauer, the client, paid for this portrait 100 years ago to Klimt, the artist.
Adele: I do not know how much uncle Ferry paid Klimt, but even for a wealthy man like him it was a significant sum. Of course, he took risks, when he purchased paintings by contemporary Austrian artists, instead of timeless Flemish and Italian masters.
Czernin: Did he know and understand art well?
Altman: I do not know… However, today, having acquired some life experience of my own, I can see that my Uncle Ferry was not only a good industrialist and a wise man. He had an amazing personality, and he lived a unique and tragic life.
Czernin: What was so unique about his life?
Altman: He inherited a little shop from his father which he turned into the largest in Europe sugar factory. He survived two world wars, the early death of his beloved wife, world financial crisis, the Nazi rise to power, a loss of all of his possessions, yet, he escaped and managed to emigrate. And, as he promised me, he lived until the Nazis were defeated, and died after that. His life is worthy of a book!
Czernin: Tell me about your husband.
Altman: Fritz Altman was an opera singer. His brother Bernhard was an industrialist, he had a textile factory. We were married in 1937, and uncle Ferry gave me Adele’s necklace as a wedding gift (points at the picture). It was 3 months before Austria became occupied by Nazis.
Czernin: Do you remember the day when the Nazis entered Vienna?
Altman: Yes, I remember that day very well… Austrians were very, very happy!
Czernin: Can you compare how you remember those days to what we see in documentaries from those years?
Altman: What one sees in documentaries of those years is a very limited account of the euphoria that overtook people with the arrival of the Nazis. Once I saw Emmy Goering wearing Adele’s necklace.
Czernin (sounding like a judge): I have an objection. Emmy Goering’s neck was three times bigger than Adele’s, there was no way she could have worn Adele’s necklace.
Altman: There was an elastic band in the back, and it stretched. If only objects could speak, I am sure this necklace would have told us a lot.
Czernin: By the way, where is this necklace now (points at the painting)?
Altman: I do not know. In April of 1938 the Gestapo took the Stradivarius cello, as well as all of my mother’s and my own jewelry. This necklace was thrown into a bag with everything else. A couple of days later they arrested Fritz, and he was sent to Dachau.
Czernin: How did you manage to secure your husband’s release?
Altman: His brother, Bernhard, who had escaped to Paris, signed a statement, relinquishing his factory in favor of a Nazi industrialist. Fritz and I signed similar statements. Then, he was released from Dachau to be kept under house arrest in Vienna.
Czernin: How did you escape from Vienna?
Altman: Oh, this is a whole other story! My older brother was summoned by the Gestapo. We all thought he would be arrested. But the interrogating officer asked him only one question: where he was on New Year’s Eve in 1934.
Czernin: Why New Year’s Eve of 1934?
Altman: My brother was a mountain climber; he spent New Year’s Eve of 1934 in the Alps. There was an avalanche, and somebody got caught in it. My brother and his partner rescued the poor wretch by digging him out from under the snow. He turned out to be Hitler’s nephew, and then, the officer who conducted that interrogation.
Altman: So, Hitler’s nephew told him to flee, he promised to provide a cover for us for two days. We got fake documents, and tried to escape, but were not successful.
Czernin: What happened next?
Altman: Bernhard, who was already in Paris, arranged airplane tickets for us to fly from Vienna to Munich. We boarded the plane, pilots started the engines, and at the last moment the engines stopped and the door opened. We thought this was it, another failure and our imminent arrest. But it turned out, it was just a late passenger, and we took off for Munich.
Czernin: Why Munich?
Altman: In Munich we boarded a train to Aachen, near the Belgian border. There we took a taxi straight to the border. A local pastor showed us a place where we could climb over the fence. As I was climbing that fence, I snagged my stockings, and they ripped. I have kept that pair of stockings as a souvenir of our escape.
Czernin: Why did you sign a statement after the war, donating 5 Klimt paintings from your uncle’s collection to The Belvedere Museum?
Adele: After the war Austria adopted a law, prohibiting export of works of art. They offered me to take the whole collection, if I donated the 5 Klimt paintings to The Belvedere, according to Aunt Adele’s wishes expressed in her will. At that point I knew nothing about my uncle’s will.
Czernin: And you agreed?
Altman: What else could I do? We were poor in America after the war. There were four of my own children, my sister’s children, and my brother’s children to take care of and educate. And, thus, I decided, that a part of my Uncle’s collection was better than nothing. This is why I signed the statement donating the 5 Klimt paintings to The Belvedere.
Czernin: So, you were pressured by the Austrian Government?
Altman: We haggled, but there were no succession rights then…
Czernin: Has it ever occurred to you that, maybe, those paintings can be returned one day?
Altman: You know, my father was a lawyer, and I was raised in the respect of the law. I never lost hope that some day justice will prevail.
Czernin: Maria Altman came out a winner in California courts against The Republic of Austria. Did you have a good lawyer?
Altman: Yes, it is Mr. Schoenberg, a grandson of the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, with whom my family was acquainted in Vienna. He even participated in our home concerts….
Czernin: What were you thinking when the case went to The Supreme Court in the United States?
Altman: I did not want to go to The Supreme Court. Although the courts are independent and free of the government influence, but President George Bush the younger sided with Austria, he did not want a rift in the relationship with The Republic of Austria because of such nuisances.
Czernin: And why did The Supreme Court of the United States decide that the matter could be resolved in American courts?
Altman: Because my Uncle Ferry was a citizen of Czechoslovakia, not of Austria. But I was especially pleased that the final decision was made by the Austrian Arbitrage Court consisting of three distinguished attorneys.
Czernin (turning off the recorder): Frau Altman, thank you for the interview.
Altman: I am also happy that I could at least somehow express my gratitude to you for your help.
Czernin approaches the painting and studies ‘The Golden Adele’.
Altman: What are you trying to find in the painting?
Czernin: The point from which one can see whether she is smiling or not!
Altman (exclaims with surprise): How do you know about this secret?
Czernin (packs his recorder in the briefcase): I am sorry Frau Altman, but I have to catch a plane to Munchen, just like you did… Only you were running away from it… (he laughs and runs away)
Altman (keeps talking as he runs off): Have a good flight. I will call you tomorrow morning.
She stands in the same spot, where a moment ago stood Czernin, and looks closely at the painting.
She inserts a disc of Brahms into the player, sits in the armchair and listens to the music.
Then she picks up the telephone and dials.
Maria Altman: Good morning, Mr. Czernin. How was your flight?
Czernin (voice in the telephone): Fine, thank you. I worked on your interview during the flight, and wanted to go to the office right away… but I am not sure I will do that, as right now I do not feel very well…
The line is lost in the mid-sentence, only a dial tone is heard…
Maria Altman (agitated): Hello, hello! I cannot hear you, Mr. Czernin! What did you say? Hello, Hubertus, you should call an ambulance! Hello, I cannot hear you, Hubertus… Hello…
Maria Altman slides back into the chair, sits at the desk, holding her head in her hands. She is crying. A dial tone is heard.
A voice from backstage:
Following a decision of The Arbitrage Court in Austria ‘The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer 1’ was returned by the Austrian National Gallery ‘Belvedere’ to the Bloch-Bauer heir Maria Altman in Los Angeles in February 2006.
In June of 2006 the painting was sold by the heirs at an auction for $135 million and since then it has been exhibited in the Museum of Austrian and German Art, the Neue Galerie, on New York’s 5th Avenue. Hubertus Czernin died in June, 2006 from a rare chronic condition at the age of 50.