Portrait of Fräulein Lieser” by Gustav Klimt becomes Austria’s most expensive work of art

On Wednesday 24 April, Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Fräulein Lieser” sold for €30 million at an auction organised by Im Kinsky. Although the painting did not reach its highest estimate of €50 million, it became the most expensive work ever sold at auction in Austria.


This is a historic event in Austria. The painting “Portrait of Fräulein Lieser” by Gustav Klimt has become the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction in Austria, under the auspices of Im Kinsky. The piece was bought yesterday, Wednesday 24 April, in Vienna by a Hong Kong bidder represented by Patti Wong & Associates. Although the highest estimate was €50 million, the hammer fell at €30 million, the lowest price, which was enough to break the record in the Central European country. The previous Austrian record was €7 million for a Flemish painting sold in 2010.


“We’re really pleased with the result, but not really surprised, as it reflects international standards,” explained Claudia Mörth-Gasser, House of Im Kinsky’s expert on works by Gustav Klimt. Proof of the artist’s renown, one of his paintings sold for 86 million euros in London last June.


© DR


Born in Austria in 1862, Gustav Klimt was a leading figure in Viennese Symbolism. His works, influenced by Art Nouveau, are recognisable for their delicate gold ornamentation. A leader in the secessionist movement, which aimed to promote Austrian art around the world, Klimt’s reputation was further enhanced by the many portraits he painted for the bourgeoisie towards the end of his career. The “Portrait of Fräulein Lieser” is a case in point.


The mystery of the model


This is the story of a woman with dark brown hair, a porcelain complexion and gentle eyes. A woman dressed in a blue coat adorned with flowers and a mint dress, against a background of varying shades of red. Begun in 1917 and still unfinished, the painting contains a mystery that has never been solved since Gustav Klimt died in 1918: who is this woman?


What we do know is that she came from the Lieser family, who had made their fortune in the jute and hemp industry in Austria. A member of the wealthy Viennese bourgeoisie, this woman visited Gustav Klimt’s studio nine times, as her notebook indicates. There is every reason to believe that Lilly Lieser, matriarch of the family and married to the businessman Justus Lieser until 1905, commissioned the artist to paint this portrait as a great art lover and renowned patron of the arts.


Three names emerge from the research. The model could be Margarethe Constance Lieser, Lilly Lieser’s niece by her brother-in-law Adolf, or one of her two daughters, either the elder Hélène or her younger sister Annie.


© DR


The secret remains, but it adds to the attraction of the painting. Especially as the work of art had been off the radar for over 100 years, hidden away in a private Austrian estate. The enigmatic provenance of this resurrected painting is galvanising specialists…


The Im Kinsky auction house will be holding a free public exhibition of the painting on 29 and 30 April and 2 and 3 May. An opportunity to admire this magnetic work with an extraordinary destiny.



Featured photo : © DR

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