The Ladyboy in Gold, Self Portrait as Adele Bloch-Bauer / by Mario Elias

"Men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object - and most particularly an object of vision: a sight."- John Berger, 1970

It was very common for Gustav Klimt to portray women in states of undress and suggestive poses. His aesthetic also tended to include awkward poses and contortion of the body and limbs that added an eerie element to his otherwise beautiful jewel tones, golden hues, and flowing shapes. He would take the female models, paint them beautifully into his dreamlike scenes, adorn them with gold, and turn their image into an actual object. The most blatant form of objectification I have ever golly darn heard of. Then again, that is just what Art tends to be about sometimes... Am I right ladies?  

In 1897, Klimt was the president of the Vienna Secession, the Austrian counterpart to the Art Nouveau movement sweeping Europe and eventually the world. Klimt and his fellow seceders were looking for a place unconventional artists could share their work and be recognized no matter their style, aesthetic, or subject matter.  This is all good and well, except, while Klimt was an extraordinary technical and creative artist, he was also a horrendous womanizer.  You wouldn't be able to tell by his pudgy face, crazy hair, or questionable wardrobe (commando in oversized smocks.... like, what?), but it is speculated that he sired at least FOURTEEN children with a wide array of women (some of whom were his models, we may assume). 

Klimt painted women almost exclusively, with few exceptions.  From young, to pregnant, to the elderly, Klimt did not exclude many from his obsession with the female body; he was extremely inclusive in regards to his models. His well-known Gold Phase was preceded by a period of  scathing reviews from critics calling his art pornographic, perverted and a depiction of "excess."  He basically flipped his hair, and kept doing the damn thing, and eventually came out on top for the very art he was criticized for.  (It is worth it to mention that he did die from syphilis... Coincidence or karma? I d even k...)

 Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907) is somewhat of an anomaly when it comes to the Klimt canon of imagery and iconography. This painting is a stately, poised portrait showing Adele in golden splendor, staring the viewer directly in the eye with a knowing, powerful gaze....

klimt-adelebb1907

 ...also her crotch and breasts aren't visible, and she isn't in an awkward or demeaning position with the viewer's line of sight going straight up her crotch.  Nevertheless, with its Byzantine influence, opulent decadence, and decorative flair, it does fit in perfectly as the final piece of his Gold Phase.  Where many of his paintings pit the subject against the sexual desires and fantasies of the viewer/men, this is a regal, decorative statement, rather than a dream-sequence of desire. Adele is almost surveying the viewer instead of being the object of inappropriate attention.  While it is documented that she was actually a very soft spoken and reserved woman, from her likeness here, one would assume she is the winner of All Stars 2. Adele is also one of the only models Klimt painted more than once, and rumors did abound that the two had an affair.  It could've happened, especially with his track record, but I'm not one to gossip.....

This portrait was commissioned by the Bloch-Bauers, sugar barons of the time. It was retained in their possession, even after Adele's death in 1925, until the Nazi occupation seized the painting among others, displaying it as "The Lady/Woman in Gold" to avoid promoting the image of a prominent Jewish woman living in the lap of luxury.  If you've kept your finger on the pulse of art sales and acquisitions, you will have heard that this painting recently sold for a record breaking $135 Million, just after a movie-worthy legal battle over the painting's rightful ownership.  


To recreate this portrait, I first had to completely rebuild the golden background we see Adele emerging from in the original painting. Using illustration, Photoshop, and some found images, I pieced together the scene and gave it a somewhat modern tinge.  For the garment, I constructed a Byzantine-inspired drape from several textured gold sequined fabrics (I'm naming the line GoldenPhase ;-) available soon at a WetSeal near you.)  Hair and make-up-lewk by yours truly as well,  with an all MAC ensemble cast of the aptly named "Wonder Woman" Eye Shadow Palette for eyes and highlights as well as nose contouring, "Forbidden Sunrise" matte lipstick and "Mango Sheen" Lipglass for my Jolies, and the Adele-patterned blush is "Bred For Beauty."