Auction  April 25, 2024  Carlota Gamboa

A Rediscovered Klimt Painting Goes to Auction In Vienna

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Fräulein Lieser, 1917

Portrait of Fräulein Lieser, unsigned. Painted by Gustav Klimt in 1917. 

A portrait, originally thought to be lost, painted by Austrian symbolist Gustav Klimt has just sold at Im Kinsky, a Vienna auction house. Though once believed to have been a commission for Adolf Lieser— a wealthy Jewish industrialist— of his daughter Margarethe Constance Lieser, the origins behind Klimt’s piece have since been contested. Now, Im Kinsky believes that Portrait of Fräulein Lieser, found in Klimt’s studio after his death in 1918, was actually commissioned by Adolf’s ex-sister-in-law, Henriette Lieser-Landau. Henriette and Justus Lieser had two daughters, Annie and Helene. As per The Art Newspaper, Annie’s U.S. immigration documents recorded her as having gray eyes, most likely making Helene the painting’s subject. However, one of the Catalogue Raisonné’s authors, Tobias Natter, denies this claim. He still believes the “overwhelming probability” that it was Margarethe Constance Lieser who posed for the portrait.

Gustav Klimt in 1887. Photographer unknown.

Photograph of Gustav Klimt in 1887.  Photographer unknown.

Henriette was a major patron of the avant-garde in Vienna, but was deported and later murdered in Auschwitz sometime before 1943. Luckily, her daughters were able to escape the war. Annie became a renowned dancer and Helene a successful economist. The painting’s whereabouts had been generally unknown since the beginning of WWII, but it has since been found to have discreetly changed hands three times since the 1960s. 

In the end, the impressively well-preserved painting was sold for €32 million to a buyer from Hong Kong. The portrait was estimated to sell for €30–€50 million and Im Kinsky’s head of modern art, Claudia Mörth-Gasser, gave a statement saying, “of course we are delighted at the result, but not really surprised.” Despite being on the lower end of the appraisal, the sale still set a record for any auction house in Austria. Before the Klimt auction, Im Kinsky’s highest-sale had been an Egon Schiele piece which sold for $6.1 million in 2010.

About the Author

Carlota Gamboa

Carlota Gamboa is an art writer based in Los Angeles.

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