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Woman in Gold: 9 Facts about Maria Altmann's story not in the film

Shanee Edwards is a screenwriter who earned her master's degree at UCLA Film School. She recently won the Next MacGyver television writing competition to create a TV show about a female engineer. Her TV pilot, Ada and the Machine, is cur...

Famous Klimt painting hides more secrets and tragedies than we ever imagined

In this emotionally powerful new film, Helen Mirren plays Maria Altmann, a real-life Jewish refugee whose family's art was stolen by Nazis in World War II. While Woman in Gold focuses on Altmann's quest to reclaim the famous Klimt painting from the Austrian government, there is a lot more to the story.

Famous Klimt painting hides more secrets and tragedies than we ever imagined

Image: public domain

1. Rumors that Adele and Gustav Klimt were lovers

Gustav Klimt was known for being a playboy, taking many, many lovers. Is it possible he seduced the lovely Adele Bloch-Bauer (Antje Traue), the real woman in gold featured in the above portrait, during one of those long portrait sessions? In 2006, Adele's niece, Maria Altmann, told The New York Times about asking her own mother if Adele and Klimt had an affair. "My mother got mad and said, 'How dare you ask such a thing? It was an intellectual friendship.' But I think it was very possible there was a romance."

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2. If there was an affair, it was probably short-lived

Some art historians claim that if you compare the two commissioned portraits of Adele, she looks incredibly sensual in the first painting with her full red lips, come-hither eyes and bare shoulder all surrounded in the decadence of gold leaf. The second portrait, painted five years later, shows a more matronly Adele, body covered up to her neck, and her luscious black hair is concealed beneath a hat, suggesting that any hot, passionate feelings the artist may have had for Adele had likely fizzled out.

3. The famous portrait took Gustav Klimt three years to complete

Czech sugar mogul Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, uncle to Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), hired Gustav Klimt to paint two portraits of his wife, Adele (Maria's aunt). The first and most famous of the two that later became known as "Woman in Gold" took Klimt three long, painstaking years to complete. It was finally finished in 1907.

4. Adele Bloch-Bauer's deformed finger

The odd, tangled way in which Adele is clasping her hands is an effort to hide a misshapen digit that if painted accurately, may have belied the perfect image of youthful feminine beauty. Adele was 25 years old when the painting was commissioned.

Famous Klimt painting hides more secrets and tragedies than we ever imagined

Image: The Weinstein Co.

5. The most spectacular view of the painting is from underneath

Maria Altman's real-life lawyer, E. Randol Shoenberg (Ryan Reynolds in the film), recently told the Times of Israel that viewing the painting in person is a totally different experience than looking at a print. "If you go down on the ground and you look up, it changes the whole picture because of the overlay of the gold leaf; you can see the textures differently."

6. Some considered Klimt's art pornographic

Klimt was commissioned in 1894 to execute three paintings to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna. After taking over six years to complete them, many conservative entities considered the paintings — "Philosophy," "Medicine" and "Jurisprudence" — to be overtly sexual in nature. They were never displayed to the public and were eventually destroyed by retreating Nazi troops in 1945.

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7. Adele lost three babies

According to The New York Times, Adele gave birth to three babies. Sadly, one died within three days and the other two died within hours. Adele herself died of meningitis in 1925 at the age of 44.

Famous Klimt painting hides more secrets and tragedies than we ever imagined

Image: The Weinstein Co.

8. Maria Altmann's husband, Fredrick, detained at death camp

Adele's niece, Maria, married an opera singer named Fredrick Altmann in 1937. After the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938, Fredrick was held at Dachau concentration camp in an effort to put pressure on his brother, Bernhard Altmann, to allow Germans to take over his booming textile factory. Having already fled to London, Bernhard signed over his factory to the Nazis and Fredrick was released. Fredrick and Maria fled to America.

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9. Maria Altmann became the American cashmere sweater queen

After Maria's brother-in-law, Bernhard, started a new textile factory in Liverpool, England, he sent Maria a cashmere sweater to see if Americans might like the fine, soft wool that wasn't available in the States at the time. Maria took the sweater to Kerr's Department Store in Beverly Hills. After they began to sell them, other stores across America followed suit, and Maria eventually started her own clothing business.

Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds, opens in theaters April 1.

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