Gustav Klimt portrait

Portrait of Fräulein Liese by Gustav Klimt, €30m (£25.9m) at im Kinsky.

Image copyright: Auktionshaus im Kinsky GmbH, Wien

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The three-quarter-length portrait of a young woman was dated to 1917 and came to the auction on April 24 having passed down to the current owner through three successive inheritances according to the Austrian saleroom.

It was estimated at €30m-50m but, with seemingly only one bidder in contention, it was knocked down at the lower end of expectations. The buyer was art agent Patti Wong who was reportedly bidding on behalf of an anonymous client in Hong Kong. With buyer's premium added, the price was €35m (£30.2m)

Another late portrait by Klimt titled Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan) sold at Sotheby’s in London for £74m in June last year, a record for any artwork sold at an auction in Europe.

The price in Vienna broke im Kinsky’s house record of €4m for Egon Schiele’s Mädchen from 1917 and also set an auction record for any artwork sold in Austria, surpassing the €6.1m (£5.65m) for a monumental painting by Frans Francken II (1581-1624) offered at Dorotheum in 2010.

Sitter debate

Klimt’s 4ft 7in x 2ft 7in (1.4m x 80cm) oil on canvas was dazzlingly coloured but certain parts were left unfinished at the time of his death. Although im Kinsky said the painting had been ‘Austrian private property since the 1960s’ and that ‘no evidence’ exists that this particular work was ‘stolen or otherwise unlawfully seized, either before or during the Second World War’, the fact that its exact fate after 1925 remains unclear appears to have counted against it commercially.

The sitter has been identified as Margarethe Constance Lieser (1899-1965), the daughter of the industrial magnate Adolf Lieser, although there was also some suggestion that it may depict one of her cousins, Helene and Annie.

It is believed to have been part of the Liesers’ collection but at some point later it seemingly came into the possession of an unnamed art dealer in Vienna from whom it was acquired by a member of the current owner’s family according to im Kinsky.

The Liesers were among the families persecuted under the Nazis’ anti-Jewish laws with much of their assets seized including furniture, musical instruments and paintings. Most of the family fled Austria between 1938 and 1945 and at least one member was murdered by the Nazis.

The auction house said the work was “auctioned on behalf of the current owners and the legal successors of Adolf and Henriette Lieser, based on an agreement in accordance with the Washington Principles”. Following the ownership agreement, Austria’s Federal Monuments Office also issued a permit to export the painting.

Im Kinsky's managing directors Michael Kovacek and Ernst Ploil said a "fair and equitable solution" was reached "in the interest of all engaged parties". The auction house confirmed that the heirs of the Lieser family will receive a share of the proceeds as part of the agreement.

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