Offered with an estimate ‘in the region of $45m’, the rare and shimmering picture which showed the influence of both Impressionism and Pointillism on the artist was knocked down at $46m (£36.5m) to a Japanese private collector bidding through chairman and managing director of Sotheby's Japan Yasuaki Ishizaka.
With buyer’s premium added (plus the additional 1% ‘overhead premium’ charged by Sotheby’s), the price was $53.2m (£42.5m).
Titled Insel im Attersee (Island in Attersee), the 3ft 4in (1.01m) square oil on canvas from c.1901-02 fetched the third highest price for the artist at auction. While a $91m (£80m) record was set in November for Birch Forest which sold at Christie’s Paul Allen auction, the current work surpassed the $36m (£22.5m) for another Klimt view of the same lake sold at Sotheby’s in 2011.
While a similar and earlier view of Lake Attersee is held at the Leopold Museum in Vienna, the current picture is the only one of this subject remaining in private hands.
Billed as ‘‘one of Klimt’s most evocative landscapes’, it was formerly in the collection of Otto Kallir, an art historian and dealer who played a key role in cementing Klimt’s reputation by staging the first exhibitions of the artist’s work in the US. After escaping Austria in 1938 due to Nazi persecution, Kallir ultimately emigrated to America and opened the Galerie St. Etienne in New York which focused on the works of Austrian Modernists at a time when they were almost unknown outside their homeland. Insel im Attersee was one of the first works showcased at the gallery.
Kallir kept the picture until he died in 1978 and it was acquired from his estate by a New York collector. Sotheby’s vendor was one of their descendants and here it was appearing at auction for the very first time. The auction house had arranged a third-party guarantee on the lot.
Overall the Sotheby’s auction raised $303.1m (£240.6m) including fees with 40 of the 48 lots sold on the night (83%). Six lots were withdrawn shortly before the sale for undisclosed reasons.
Among the high points of the auction was a record for Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) when Interior. The Music Room, Strandgade 30 was knocked down at $7.6m (£6.03m). Appearing at auction for the first time in almost 80 years, it surpassed a $3m-5m estimate and was acquired by an American museum.
Prior to the Modern evening sale, the evening at Sotheby’s had kicked off with a separate auction of 15 works owned by the late Warner Bros chief executive Mo Ostin who died last year. All bar one of the lots sold for a $123.7m (£98.2m) total.
The group was led by a trademark René Magritte (1898-1967) Surrealist canvas from 1951 showing a night-time landscape with a distant house bathed in lamplight. Ostin had bought it in 1979 from Los Angeles film music executive David Geffen (the acquisition was brokered via dealers Pace Gallery).
Titled L'empire des lumières, it was estimated at $35m-55m and it sold at $36.5m (£29m) to a phone bidder. The price was the second highest for the artist at auction, only behind another similar scene but from a decade later that made £51.5m at Sotheby’s London in March last year.
£1 = $1.26