A Gustav Klimt painting that was thought to have been lost for almost a century has been rediscovered in Vienna, Austria. BBC News reports that the work, titled Portrait of Fraulein Lieser, has not been seen in public since 1925, but it was discovered in a private collection near Vienna.
The painting depicts a three-quarter length portrait of a dark haired lady wearing a colourful patterned blue robe. The various tones of orange, amber, red and pink in the background provide a striking contrast to the foreground. The vibrant colours and floral patterns are hallmarks of the artist’s highly decorative style.
The portrait will be exhibited at international destinations including the UK, Hong Kong, Switzerland, and Germany, before being put up for auction on 24 April. The im Kinsky auction house estimates that the work has a value of over $54 million (£42 million).
im Kinsky said in a statement: “The rediscovery of this portrait, one of the most beautiful of Klimt’s last creative period, is a sensation. His work, particularly his portraits of successful women from the upper middle class at the turn of the century, enjoy the highest recognition worldwide.”
“A painting of such rarity, artistic significance and value has not been available on the art market in Central Europe for decades.”
The current owners of the painting said it has been in their possession since the 1960s, but it is not known where it was acquired from. The portrait once belonged to the wealthy Lieser family.
Ernst Ploil, co-Managing Director of Kinsky Auction House, said: “The painting is described as lost in all catalogues raisonnés (comprehensive lists of Klimt’s work). In our circles, ‘lost’ means probably destroyed, probably burnt during the war, but in any case no longer in existence; it was not to be expected that it would ever reappear.”
“We took an active approach and not only researched the Lieser family as potential restitution claimants, but we also approached potential representatives based on our experience from previous restitution proceedings.”
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was an Austrian symbolist painter who is today one of the most acclaimed and best known painters of the 20th century. His early work was conservative and traditional, but over the years it evolved into a distinctive ornate style that was heavily influenced by the Art Nouveau movement.
Klimt did not enjoy much success in his lifetime, but since his death his reputation grew and his works became highly sought after. Last June, one of his paintings, Lady with a Fan, sold for £85.3 million at auction, which is the most valuable work ever sold in an European auction.
His most famous work is The Kiss, which is displayed in the Austrian Gallery in Vienna. It’s an almost life size (180cm x 180cm) portrait of two embracing lovers on a decorative gold background. The figures are fully clothed, but it’s a powerful and sensual image that was deemed pornographic by a conservative Victorian society.
The Kiss is the epitome and the final culmination of the artist’s Gold Period, in which he made extensive use of gold leaf in his work. He took his inspiration from sacred and religious works of the Byzantine Empire and from the Middle Ages, and he was also influenced by Japanese prints and the Art Nouveau movement.
The proceeds of the Portrait of Fraulein Lieser painting will go to the descendants of the Lieser family, the original owners who were wealthy Jewish industrialists. This is in accordance with the Washington Principles, an international agreement to return artworks confiscated by the Nazis during World War Two to its rightful owners.
The agreement was drawn up in 1998, with 44 participating governments including the UK, the US, and most of the European nations. It provides a framework for participants to return property confiscated during the war, much of which has still not been correctly identified or returned even 80 years later.
The Principles have established a central database of the assets concerned, and set out official processes for their recovery and return, including procedures for dispute resolution. They are not legally binding, but are based on an ethical framework to right the acts of cultural vandalism committed by the Nazis.
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