Gustav Klimt painting auctioned for US$32 million was the subject of a claim of ownership just before its sale

Gustav Klimt painting auctioned for US$32 million was the subject of a claim of ownership just before its sale

A last-minute claim of ownership of a painting by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt was made just before it was sold to an anonymous Hong Kong collector in an auction in Vienna on April 24, it has emerged.

The unfinished work from 1917, begun just before the painter died, has prompted much speculation over its provenance since it was rediscovered 100 years after it was painted.

Titled Portrait of Fraulein Lieser, the painting sold to a Hong Kong bidder for US$32 million, an art auction record for Austria.

When Klimt died of a stroke in early 1918, the painting was given to the family who had commissioned it, according to the Im Kinsky auction house.

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But what happened to the painting between 1925 and the 1960s, a period that includes the Nazi dictatorship in Austria, remains a mystery. It resurfaced only when the auction house announced the sale.

It was auctioned on behalf of the current Austrian owners, who have not been identified. The painting was sold on behalf of these owners and the legal successors of Jewish couple Adolf and Henriette Lieser, based on the Washington Principles – an international but non-binding treaty that helps resolve issues relating to Nazi-confiscated art.

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A cameraman films Austrian artist Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Fraulein Lieser, which had not been seen in public until it was shown prior to its auction in Vienna on April 24. Photo: Reuters

A report by journalist Olga Kronsteiner, who writes for Austrian newspaper Der Standard, says a new claim to the painting was lodged the day before the sale.

This person found out about the sale at the last minute from reading a media report and came forward to lodge their claim.

We have been assured that the seller and all Lieser heirs are covered [by the contract between the auction house and the consignor]
Patti Wong, who placed the winning bid for an unnamed Hong Kong client

Der Standard’s article says that the claimant, a Munich-based architect, is not a familial heir but rather a potential heir to the legal successor of Adolf Lieser.

Kronsteiner said in an email to the Post that the potential heir’s lawyer made claims to the wrong party – the auction house – when he should have contacted the other legal successors of Adolf Lieser, or their lawyers, to confirm whether his claim would be considered valid.

Patti Wong, owner of Hong Kong-based art advisory firm Patti Wong & Associates, who bid for her unnamed Hong Kong client, said: “We have been assured that the seller and all Lieser heirs are covered [by the contract between the auction house and the consignor].

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Austrian Painter Gustav Klimt, photographed around 1890. Photo Getty Images

“We further understand that the new claimant had been referred to Wedlake Bell, the Lieser heirs’ solicitors, to address and resolve [the matter].”

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