Long-Lost Klimt Portrait Surfaces and Fetches £26 Million at Auction

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Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Fräulein Lieser,” thought lost for nearly a century, recently emerged and fetched £26m at auction in Vienna. Held by im Kinsky auction house, the bidding commenced at £23m, ultimately settling within the anticipated range of £25m-£42m. The buyer’s identity remains undisclosed.

The auction house hailed the rediscovery as a sensation, emphasizing Klimt’s status as a pinnacle figure of Viennese Art Nouveau. Portraying successful women of the era, Klimt’s works command global acclaim and top-tier prices in the art market.

The rarity of such a piece, coupled with its artistic significance, underscores its absence from Central European auctions for decades. The painting’s provenance includes private Austrian citizens and purported descendants of Adolf and Henriette Lieser, sparking speculation about its commission.

The identity of the specific Lieser family member immortalized in the painting remains shrouded in mystery.

Following Klimt’s passing from a stroke in February 1918, the incomplete artwork found its way into the possession of the family who had originally commissioned it.

The sole photographic evidence of the painting’s existence resides within the archives of the Austrian National Library, presumably captured around 1925 during Otto Kallir-Nirenstein’s Klimt exhibition at the Neue Galerie in Vienna, as noted by im Kinsky.

Subsequent to this snapshot, the trail of the painting grows cold, leaving its whereabouts and journey after 1925 uncertain.

Following the 1930s, the Jewish family left Austria, enduring significant losses of their possessions.

The period between 1925 and the 1960s, encompassing the Nazi regime’s control over Austria from 1938 onwards, presents a fog of uncertainty regarding the painting’s journey.

While the auction house lacks concrete evidence of the painting’s confiscation during this tumultuous era, definitive proof of its non-seizure remains elusive. The current owners acquired it through a chain of three successive inheritances, according to im Kinsky.

Amidst this ambiguity, the present owners and Lieser family heirs reached an agreement to sell the painting in line with the Washington Principles. Enacted in 1998, these principles aim to facilitate the resolution of restitution matters concerning art confiscated during the Nazi era.