Elements of the movie Woman in Gold would make good research paper topics. The true story is about an elderly Jewish survivor of World War II who sues the Austrian government for the return of the Gustav Klimt artwork “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” also known as the Woman in Gold, which was stolen by the Nazis.
For your art history or history class, consider writing a term paper on the legal and historical aspects of the famous painting.
Woman in Gold, victim of Nazi stolen art
The movie centers on Maria Altmann who, during World War II, had her wealthy Austrian family’s paintings stolen by Nazis. The prize piece of her collection was the 1907 Gustav Klimt painting “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” which came to be known as Woman in Gold due to a mosaic of paint and gold leaf used in the portrait. The work is 54 inches square and considered a masterpiece of the Viennese Art Nouveau period (1890-1910).
The subject of the painting was the wife of industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer who commissioned the painting from Klimt. The painting remained in the family’s possession until the war broke out, then ended up in the federal art museum Belvedere Gallery in Vienna, Austria.
A good research paper topic could be to discuss the legal ramifications of Nazi plunder and attempts at restoration of stolen work after the war.
Altmann, the niece of Adele and a resident of California, spent sixty years trying to get her family’s artwork back. In 1998, Austria passed the Art Restitution Act that required provenance research of art and cultural objects in Austrian museums and collections for the purpose of restoring works to their rightful owners and heirs. That’s when Altmann decided to sue the Austrian government to get Woman in Gold back, now valued at about $100 million. Although the George W. Bush administration in the U.S. sided with the Austrian government to keep the painting, Altmann nevertheless got her case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided that she had the right to sue the Austrian government.
David beats Goliath
Nevertheless, bureaucrats in Austria were not so willing to give up the Belvedere Gallery’s prized painting, known as the “Mona Lisa of Austria.” Austrian lawyers erroneously tried to claim that the painting had been willed to the Gallery. They perpetrated delay after delay, hoping the case would out-live Altmann. However, not wanting a public trial, the Austrian government eventually relented and gave the paintings back to Altmann. “They couldn’t let it come to a trial because it would bring too much dirt out against the Austrians,” said Maria Altmann, before her death in 2011, to journalist Nina Totenberg on NPR.org, in “After Nazi Plunder, A Quest To Bring Home The ‘Woman In Gold,’” posted April 2, 2015.
The movie dramatizes how legal rights clash with sentimentality over who owned Woman in Gold. Actress Helen Mirren who played Altmann in the movie commented: “It was justice. The Austrian government didn’t want to give them back. Hopefully it will show people you can fight against the odds and sometimes, occasionally, brilliantly, miraculously win,” posted in “The Price of GOLD” in London Sunday Mirror, April 5, 2015.
Movie reveals historical perspective
Another topic for your term paper is to discuss the context surrounding the acquisition of the painting. From a historical perspective, the movie’s British director Simon Curtis noted the other important messages of the film: “I believe it brings the terrible events of the 20th century into contemporary America in a way that was very important at the time where anti-Semitism has risen again. Also, it was important to remind people of some of the mistakes of the 20th century,” reported Jeryl Brunner in the article “‘Woman In Gold’ Director Simon Curtis Shares Insight About His Film” posted April 29, 2015, in Parade.com.
For more information, research Questia’s library on Art & Architecture.
How far do you think governments are required to go to restore artwork stolen by Nazis?