Gustav Klimt lived at a pivotal time in European history, as the once-powerful Austrian Empire was nearing its end. A member of the artistic Vienna Secessionist movement, he was influenced heavily by the Art Nouveau trends. The works of his later life before his death of Spanish Flu in 1918 are most famous. Colorful, slightly abstracted portraits gilded in gold filled this “Golden Phase.” Klimt‘s images captured the faces of wealthy Vienna, including Fraulein Lieser, of a wealthy Austrian Jewish family. The public last glimpsed this portrait of the dark-haired woman with soft eyes in 1926, and it was thought to be lost in the horrors that swept Europe during World War II. However, in a shocking twist, the painting has reemerged decades later, headed for display and the auction block.
Nazi violence against Jewish people across Europe was accompanied by massive looting sprees. Priceless works of art held by Jewish families were absconded with, leading to decades of modern efforts post-war to find and return the works to descendants or relatives. Other precious works were lost in the bombing and fighting of the war. That is the fate art historians long believed befell the portrait of Fraulein Lieser. Ernst Ploil, of Kinsky Auction House where the work will be sold, told the BBC: “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.”
So far, no evidence has been discovered that the painting was looted. The present owners acquired it in the 1960s. They, as well as relatives of the Lieser family, will profit from the sale. Taking place in April, the auction is anticipated to be sensational, potentially reaching an estimated price of $54 million. Another example of Klimt's portraiture work sold this year for an incredible $108.4 million dollars—setting a European art auction record. These incredible prices suggest the immense continuing impact and popularity of Klimt's work.
This Gustav Klimt portrait of Fraulein Lieser was believed to have been lost, but it has recently emerged from a private collection and is headed to auction.