Poster on the departure of the painting from Austria
According to Austrian sources, in her will, Adele Bloch-Bauer asked her husband to donate the Klimt paintings to the Austrian State Gallery upon his death. She died in 1925 from meningitis. When the Nazis took over Austria, her widowed husband had to flee to Switzerland. His property, including his Klimt paintings, was confiscated. In his 1945 testament, Bloch-Bauer designated his nephew and nieces, including Maria Altmann, as the inheritors of his estate.
The painting was seized by the Nazis during the Anschluss, and later put on display in the Austrian State Gallery.
In 2000, following administrative impedance by the Austrian authorities to her claims for restitution of the seized works, Maria Altmann sued Austria in US Court for ownership of Adele Bloch-Bauer I and other paintings from her uncle's collection. As Bloch-Bauer's pictures had remained in Austria, the Austrian government took the position that the testament of Adele Bloch-Bauer had determined that these pictures were to stay there. After a court battle, binding arbitration by a panel of Austrian judges established in 2006 that Maria Altmann was the rightful owner of this and four other paintings by Klimt.
In June 2006 the work was sold for US $135 million to Ronald Lauder for the Neue Galerie in New York City, at the time a record price for a painting. It has been on display at the Neue Galerie since July 2006.
Some in the art world criticized the heirs' decision to sell all of the restituted paintings: specifically, New York Times chief art critic Michael Kimmelman described the heirs as "cashing in," and thus transforming a "story about justice and redemption after the Holocaust" into "yet another tale of the crazy, intoxicating art market." Kimmelman wrote: "Wouldn’t it have been remarkable (I’m just dreaming here) if the heirs had decided instead to donate one or more of the paintings to a public institution?"
Maria Altmann's story is dramatized in the 2015 film Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren as Maria and Ryan Reynolds as her lawyer, E. Randol Schoenberg (grandson of Arnold Schoenberg, the composer).