Buyer of $39 Million Klimt Painting Revealed as British Billionaire Joe Lewis

The painting reportedly hangs in his yacht, Aviva.

British forex billionaire Joe Lewis bought Klimt's Portrait of Gertrud Loew-Felsövanyi (1902) for $39 million. Photo: Jewish Business News

When Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Gertrud Loew-Felsövanyi (1902) sold at Sotheby’s London in June for $39 million, many speculated about the buyer’s identity.

Now, an investigation conducted by the Austrian daily Der Standard has revealed that the painting was not bought by Ronald Lauder, as was previously assumed. The buyer is Joe Lewis, a British billionaire who’s made his fortune in the foreign exchange market (forex) trading in the early 1990s. Lewis’s net worth is estimated at $5.4 billion, and he is the sixth wealthiest person in the UK, according to Forbes.

Gustav Klimt, Gertrud Loew (detail). Photo: Sotheby's.

Gustav Klimt, Gertrud Loew (detail).
Photo: Sotheby’s.

The provenance of the Nazi-looted Klimt painting was only resolved in early June and the artwork was subsequently returned to the subject’s granddaughter. Soon afterwards, the Felsövanyi family and the Klimt Foundation decided to consign the work to Sotheby’s and share the proceeds.

According to the Austrian paper, Ernst Ploil, who sits on the advisory board of New York’s Neue Galerie, has confirmed the identity of the painting’s new owner. The portrait will go to the museum on loan for the exhibition Women of Vienna’s Golden Age 1900–1918, which runs from September 2016 to January 2017.

Much like Ronald Lauder, whose collection hangs at the Neue Galerie, Lewis also has a preference for Austrian modernism. His collection already includes Klimt’s Ria Munk III (1918), and Egon Schiele’s Danaë (1909), among other works.

The painting reportedly hangs in Lewis' yacht Aviva Photo: The Times

The painting reportedly hangs in Lewis’s yacht, Aviva.
Photo via: The Times

In Austria, the country of Klimt’s birth, the sale has reignited an old debate as critics of current restitution practice reiterated their concern that restituted masterpieces all too often disappear from public view as they go to private hands.

Public institutions are invariably incapable of raising the funds to acquire expensive important works, and so these masterpieces find their way into free-ports or the collections of the super-rich.

In this case, the portrait now reportedly adorns the walls of Aviva, Lewis’s yacht, which is moored on the Thames.

And although the painting will go on display in New York, the chances of it becoming permanently publicly accessible, the Austrian media predicts, are slim.

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