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Radio review: Every painting tells a story - and what a treasure this is

Witness: The Battle for the Woman in Gold tells the fascinating story about Gustav Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer
Witness: The Battle for the Woman in Gold tells the fascinating story about Gustav Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer Witness: The Battle for the Woman in Gold tells the fascinating story about Gustav Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

Witness: The Battle for the Woman in Gold, BBC Sounds

IT is a painting in gold leaf of a woman with a cloud of black hair who glistens and shines from the canvas.

The Woman in Gold, painted by Gustav Klimt, was Adele Bloch-Bauer.

The portrait was painted at the turn of the last century - the early 1900s - and was once one of the most expensive portraits in the world.

It is one of just five from Klimt's golden period. The most famous is The Kiss.

To Maria Altman, it was her aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer and a reminder of happier times in Vienna.

Her aunt knew the composers Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler and she was painted by Gustav Klimt who was a famous ladies' man and, when he died, was found to have 18 illegitimate children although Adele denied any liaison with him.

She died at 42 of meningitis.

The world of glittering salons and opera music that she had inhabited ended when the Nazis annexed Austria.

The Nazis took their property and art. Maria said her aunt's diamond jewellery went to Goring's wife.

Maria fled Vienna for America.

But the paintings remained and after the war, Austria was not giving them up without a battle.

It was a David and Goliath style fight between a young American lawyer and a foreign country.

It was fought in the US and went all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Lawyer Randol Schoenberg: "I was just a kid representing my grandmother's friend in this crazy case where we're suing a foreign country..."

Maria won and, as an old woman, lived to see the five Klimt paintings together again.

This was a fascinating slice of history.

You can see the portrait of Adele in New York now... and you can argue about the rights and wrongs of private ownership and public interest.

But every painting tells a story and what a treasure this was.