Long-lost Gustav Klimt painting sold to Hong Kong bidder for US$32 million at Vienna auction

A portrait of a young woman by Gustav Klimt that was long believed to be lost was sold at an auction in Vienna on Wednesday for €30 million (US$32 million).

The Austrian modernist artist started work on the “Portrait of Fraulein Lieser” in 1917, the year before he died, and it is one of his last works. Bidding started at €28 million, and the sale price was at the lower end of an expected range of €30-€50 million.

The painting went to a bidder from Hong Kong, who was not identified.

The Im Kinsky auction house said that “a painting of such rarity, artistic significance, and value has not been available on the art market in Central Europe for decades”.

Auctioneer Michael Kovacek (centre) and Klimt expert Claudia Moerth-Gasser lead the auction of Klimt’s “Portrait of Fraulein Lieser” in Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday. Photo: EPA-EFE

The intensely coloured painting was auctioned on behalf of the current owners, Austrian private citizens whose names were not released, and the legal heirs of Adolf and Henriette Lieser, one of whom is believed to have commissioned the painting. It is not entirely clear which member of the Lieser family was the model.

Klimt left the painting, with small parts unfinished, in his studio when he died of a stroke in early 1918 and it was given to the family who had commissioned it, according to the auction house.

The Jewish family fled Austria after 1930 and lost most of their possessions.

It is unclear exactly what happened to the painting between 1925 and the 1960s, a period that includes the Nazi dictatorship. Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938.

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The auction house says there is no evidence that the painting was confiscated then, but also no proof that it was not. It ended up with the current owners through three successive inheritances.

In view of the uncertainty, an agreement was drawn up with the current owners and the Liesers’ heirs to go forward with the sale under the Washington Principles, which were drafted in 1998 to assist in resolving issues related to returning Nazi-confiscated art.

The auction house said it was very happy with Wednesday’s result.

The sale price was an art auction record for Austria. The highest price previously paid at an auction in the country was just over €7 million for a work by Frans Francken the Younger in 2010.



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