Ferdinand Bloch was the youngest of six children of the sugar factory owner and banker David Bloch and his wife Marie, née Straschnow. He attended the Handelsakademie in Prague and joined the family business in 1881. He became director of the company in 1892 and developed it into one of the largest European company in its segment. He held consultant, managerial and supervisory functions in other companies. After the end of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918 he was successfully involved in Austrian and Czechoslovakian companies, banks and lobby groups. In 1899 he married Adele Bauer, born 9 August 1881 as the seventh child of Moritz Bauer, director of the Wiener Bankverein, and his wife Jeanette, née Honig. The marriage was childless. After living in Prague and Elbekosteletz / Kostelec nad Labem, the couple moved to Schwindgasse 10 in Vienna's 4th district. As prominent members of Viennese society they met with politicians and artists and collected paintings, sculptures and Classicist Viennese porcelain. Gustav Klimt painted several portraits of Adele Bloch. The couple also shared an enthusiasm for hunting. In 1909 Ferdinand Bloch acquired a castle in Jungfernbreschan / Panenské Břežany north of Prague, where the couple spent time and stored some of their art collection. On 9 February 1917 Ferdinand and Adele Bloch, and Ferdinand's elder brother and his wife Therese, Adele's older sister, changed their surname to Bloch-Bauer. After the First World War Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer decided to take Czechoslovakian citizenship. They lived alternately in Jungfernbreschan castle and at Gusshausstraße 9 in Vienna's 4th district, until Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer acquired the house at Elisabethstraße 18 in the 1st district, where they occupied an apartment. Adele Bloch-Bauer died on 24 January 1925 at the age of just 43. For the Klimt memorial exhibition in the Secession in 1928, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer loaned seven paintings, including two portraits of his wife from 1907 and 1912. In May and June 1937 the exhibition marking Oskar Kokoschka's fiftieth birthday was shown with a year's delay at the Austrian Museum of Art and Industry with the financial support of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer and the loan of a portrait of him painted in 1936. Three paintings by Klimt, three by Waldmüller and one by Pettenkofen from the Bloch-Bauer collection were shown along with porcelain items at the Exposition d’Art Autrichien that took place at the same time at the Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris parallel to the 1937 World's Fair.
After the annexation of Austria to the Nazi German Reich in March 1938, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer was persecuted on account of his Jewish origins but also as a supporter of the Dollfuß-Schuschnigg regime, his assets in Austria were secured and he was charged with tax evasion. Bloch-Bauer fled first to Czechoslovakia and then to Switzerland. After the establishment of the Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia on 16 March 1939, the Nazi regime expropriated Jungfernbreschan castle, which was used by Reich Protector Konstantin von Neurath and in 1941 and 1942 by the deputy Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich. Bloch-Bauer's assets in Austria were "disposed of". The Österreichische Galerie (ÖG) acquired four Klimt paintings between 1941 and 1943. Six pictures, a sculpture and a tapestry were handed over to the Sonderauftrag Linz for the planned "Führermuseum". The porcelain collection, valued at 500,000 Reichsmarks, was auctioned in June 1941 at the Kunst- und Auktionshaus "Kärntnerstraße" in Vienna. The extensive catalogue was based on Richard Ernst's publication Wiener Porzellan des Klassizismus: Die Sammlung Bloch-Bauer from 1925. Prior to the auction, Ernst, now director of the State Arts and Crafts Museum in Vienna, acquired thirty-four porcelain items for his museum. The assets were liquidated by the lawyer Erich Führer, a member of the NSDAP and the SS.
After the Second World War, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, now living in Switzerland, commissioned his Vienna lawyer Gustav Rinesch to seek restitution of the expropriated assets. Bloch-Bauer did not live to see any of his possessions restituted, however, as he died on 13 November 1945 in Zurich. In 1949 at least one private collector returned porcelain items acquired at the 1941 auction to the heirs of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer against reimbursement of the purchase price. Taking advantage of the Export Prohibition Act, Richard Ernst also ensured that year that all thirty-four porcelain items acquired in 1941 remained in the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts as "donations" or in exchange for other items. At the 1941 auction, the Städtische Sammlungen Wien had acquired thirty-one porcelain objects, of which sixteen were lost at the end of the war and fourteen were returned to the heirs of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer in 1949 and 1954 against reimbursement of the purchase price. A cup and saucer found in 1979 were not restituted until 1999. The Klimt painting Birch Forest/Beech Forest, purchased by the Städtische Sammlungen in 1942 from the lawyer Erich Führer was acquired in 1948 by the ÖG. The eight works taken over by the Sonderauftrag Linz were restituted in 1949/50. The Albertina accepted sixteen Klimt drawings as "donations" in the course of an export application.
In 1999 the Art Restitution Advisory Board considered the Bloch-Bauer collection for the first time and recommended the restitution of sixteen drawings by Gustav Klimt from the Albertina and twenty-four porcelain items from the MAK. The objects were returned that same year. It did not recommend restitution of the porcelain in the MAK exchanged in 1949 as part of a restitution settlement, the watercolour Portal of the Church of Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg by Rudolf von Alt, which had remained in the Albertina in 1949/50 after the refusal to grant export authorization, and the Klimt paintings in the ÖG. The Advisory Board established that in her last will and testament in 1923 Adele Bloch-Bauer had bequeathed them to the State. Maria Altmann, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer's niece and one of his heirs refused to accept the Board's recommendation regarding the Klimt paintings. With the assistance of the lawyer E. Randol Schoenberg she instigated court proceedings in the USA. In May 2005 Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer's heirs reached an agreement with the Republic of Austria to send the matter to arbitration. The three-person arbitration court concluded on 15 January 2006 that the paintings should be returned to the heirs. As attempts by the Republic of Austria to repurchase the paintings came to nothing, they were restituted. The most famous painting, The Woman in Gold (Adele Bloch-Bauer I), was acquired by Ronald Lauder for the Neue Galerie in New York. In 2004 the Art Restitution Advisory Board recommended that Kneeling Boys, two marble sculptures by George Minne, should not be restituted from the ÖG as it was not clear whether they came from the Bloch-Bauer collection. After further research established that they had indeed been owned by Bloch-Bauer, the Board recommended their restitution in 2007. In 2013 the Board recommended the return of the watercolour Portal of the Church of Nonnberg Abbey in Salzburg on condition that the legal successors of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer returned the watercolour Courtyard of the Doge's Palace in Venice by Rudolf von Alt or its equivalent value. In 2015 the Board recommended the return of the remaining fifteen porcelain items from the MAK, again on the condition that the heirs return the porcelain received in return or its equivalent value.