Helena Lyng Blak
4 weeks ago

Mysterious Painting’s €35 Million Price Tag Makes Austrian History

A century-old mystery unfolds as Gustav Klimt's long-lost masterpiece fetches a record-breaking sum at an Austrian auction.
AndrewLozovyi / DespositPhotos
AndrewLozovyi / DespositPhotos

On Wednesday evening, local time, April 24, 2024, Austrian auction house im Kinsky and artist Gustav Klimt’s (1862-1918) painting ‘Portrait of Fräulein Lieser’ made history. 

The art work, believed to have been painted around 1917, was auctioned off for €30 million, €35 million including buyer’s premium, thus making it the highest price paid for any artwork in Austria at auction. 

View the painting here.

Who Was Gustav Klimt?

Gustav Klimt, born in Austria in 1862, was one of the most prominent artists of the symbolist and the art nouveau movement. 

Today, he is most famous for his work using gold leaf such as ‘The Kiss’ from 1907-1908. 

Klimt died in 1918, but in the succeeding decades, his work’s popularity continued – particularly among Nazis. 

Many of Klimt’s portraits painted of and for Jewish upper class families were looted and stolen during World War II.

A Century Lost

According to im Kinsky, the ‘Portrait of Fräulein Lieser’ is almost certainly an example of one of these artworks, which were stolen or confiscated by Nazi authorities. 

The Lieser family was Jewish and fled Austria in 1930. 

Although not exactly hidden, it has never been publicly shown, and its whereabouts were largely unknown for roughly a century. 

The painting is not signed, although its authenticity is all but certain, so it is entirely possible that the piece’s previous owner was not aware they were in possession of a Klimt painting. 

Up until it was brought to the auction house im Kinsky, the existence of the painting was only known due to a black-and-white photograph of the piece in an old catalogue of Klimt’s paintings. 

Ambiguous Subject

The identity of the sitter of the portrait, the eponymous ‘Fräulein Lieser’ is somewhat opaque. The Liesers were an upper middle class family in Vienna, consisting of industrialist brothers Adolf and Justus Lieser and their wives and children. 

The sitter was most likely one of the family’s daughters, either Adolf’s daughter Margarethe Constance Lieser, who would have been around 18 at the time of the painting’s completion or one of her cousins Helene,19, or Annie, 16, the latter of which would go on to become a famous dancer. 

The piece was bought by Hong Kong-based art advisory firm Patti Wong & Associates on behalf of an anonymous buyer. 

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