Gustav Klimt Painting Sells for €30 Million, Falling Short of Expectations

A lost Gustav Klimt portrait, "Bildnis Fräulein Lieser," sold for €30 million at a Vienna auction, significantly below its pre-sale estimate, highlighting the ongoing challenges in resolving Nazi-looted art issues.

Nitish Verma
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Gustav Klimt Painting Sells for €30 Million, Falling Short of Expectations

Gustav Klimt Painting Sells for €30 Million, Falling Short of Expectations

A portrait by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt titled "Bildnis Fräulein Lieser" sold for €30 million ($32 million) at an auction in Vienna on Wednesday, significantly below its pre-sale estimate of €30-50 million. The painting, considered one of Klimt's final works, had been lost for nearly a century before recently resurfacing from a private collection.

The auction house im Kinsky described the rediscovery of the portrait as a "sensation," calling it one of Klimt's most beautiful works from his late period. The painting depicts a young woman and was auctioned on behalf of its current Austrian owners, who reached an agreement with the legal heirs of the Lieser family in accordance with the Washington Principles regarding Nazi-confiscated art.

While im Kinsky found no evidence that "Bildnis Fräulein Lieser" had been looted, they could not definitively prove it had not been during the gap in its provenance between 1938 and 1945. The Jewish Lieser family fled Austria after 1930 and lost most of their possessions. One family member is believed to have commissioned the portrait from Klimt.

The €30 million sale price was less than half of the €86 million that another Klimt portrait, "Dame mit Fächer," fetched at auction in London last year, setting a record for the artist. im Kinsky's managing director Ernst Ploil called Wednesday's price a "snip" in comparison.

Why this matters: The sale of "Bildnis Fräulein Lieser" highlights the ongoing challenges in resolving issues related to Nazi-looted art, even with international agreements like the Washington Principles in place. It also underscores the enduring demand for works by Klimt, one of Austria's most celebrated artists, whose portraits rarely come to market.

Ploil expressed surprise at the relatively low sale price, noting that bidding started at €28 million but did not go much higher. "The interest was not as high as we had hoped for," he stated. The auction result suggests that questions surrounding the painting's history during the Nazi era may have dampened enthusiasm among potential buyers, despite the agreement reached with the Lieser heirs.

Key Takeaways

  • Klimt's "Bildnis Fräulein Lieser" sold for €30M ($32M) at Vienna auction.
  • Painting was lost for nearly a century before resurfacing from private collection.
  • Auction house reached agreement with Lieser family heirs over Nazi-looted art.
  • Sale price was less than half of record €86M for another Klimt portrait.
  • Auction result suggests history during Nazi era dampened buyer enthusiasm.