Gustav Klimt’s Final Portrait, Thought Lost for Nearly 100 Years, Heads to Auction in Vienna

The only known record of the painting had been a black-and-white photograph taken in 1925.

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Fräulein Lieser (1917) (detail). Photo: © Auktionshaus im Kinsky GmbH, Vienna.

In a striking 1917 portrait by Gustav Klimt, Fräulein Lieser wears a bright blue cloak adorned with orange, yellow, and pink flowers against a fiery red background. This vibrant cacophony of color was lost for nearly a century, however, during which time the painting was known to us only by a black-and-white photograph.

The whereabouts of the portrait has been a mystery since 1925, when the only photo recording its existence was taken. A century later, it has resurfaced and will head to auction at Im Kinsky in Vienna with a hefty estimate of €30 million–€50 million ($32.5 million–$55 million).

Painted in the final years of Klimt’s life, the identity of the subject in the portrait has been a matter of some debate but she is known to have been a member of the Lieser family of wealthy, upper-class Jewish industrialists. The work appears to have been started in May 1917 and was found still partially unfinished in Klimt’s studio when he died of a stroke in 1918. It was then handed over to the Lieser family.

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Fräulein Lieser (1917) (detail). Photo: © Auktionshaus im Kinsky GmbH, Vienna.

“It’s incredibly well preserved, in almost unblemished original condition,” the house’s head of modern art, Claudia Mörth-Gasser, said at a press conference yesterday.

The 1925 photograph of the painting, which belongs to the Austrian National Library, notes that the painting was at that time still in the possession of the Lieser family. The family of the work’s consignor are now known to have legally acquired the work in the 1960s, but there is a significant gap in the artwork’s provenance. In the decades between 1925 and 1960, its movements and the circumstances under which it changed hands are unknown.

There is no evidence found that the work was looted or illegally confiscated under Nazi rule, according to art law expert Ernst Ploil, who researched the painting’s past, and no claims have been made by the Lieser family.

The work is being sold on behalf of both the consignor and the legal descendants of the Lieser family, in accordance with the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, established in 1998 to support the identification and return of looted art.

Klimt’s distinctive Art Nouveau style came to define the fin-de-siècle Austrian avant-garde, and some of his best known works are portraits of female subjects. His current auction record of $109 million was achieved in June 2023 at Sotheby’s London for the painting Lady with a Fan from the same year (1917–18). In 2006, his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912) sold for $88 million at Christie’s New York, according to Artnet’s Price Database.

Im Kinsky is Austria’s second largest auction house.

Before Portrait for Fräulein Lieser hits the auction block as part of The Gustav Klimt Sale on April 24, 2024, it will travel internationally to Switzerland, Germany, the U.K., and Hong Kong.

 

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