‘Lost’ painting by Gustav Klimt sells for €30 million

  • By Bethany Bell
  • BBC News, Vienna

Image caption, The painting is thought to depict a daughter of Adolf or Justus Lieser

A painting by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, thought to have been lost for the past 100 years, has been sold at auction in Vienna.

The unfinished work, Portrait of Fraulein Lieser, raised 30 million euros.

It was built in 1917, a year before Klimt’s death, by order of a family of Jewish industrialists.

However, there are many unanswered questions about the painting and debate about who the woman in the portrait is, and what happened to the painting during the Nazi era.

It is believed to depict one of the daughters of Adolf or Justus Lieser, brothers from a wealthy family of Jewish industrialists.

Art historians Thomas Natter and Alfred Weidinger say the painting is by Margarethe Constance Lieser, the daughter of Adolf Lieser.

But auction house im Kinsky in Vienna, which auctioned the artwork, suggests that the painting could also depict one of the two daughters of Justus Lieser and his wife Henriette.

Henriette, who was known as Lilly, was a patron of modern art. She was deported by the Nazis and died in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust.

Her daughters Helene and Annie both survived the Second World War.

The auction house said in a statement that the exact fate of the painting after 1925 is “unclear”.

“What is known is that it was acquired in the 1960s by a legal predecessor of the consignor and passed to the current owner through three successive inheritances.”

The identity of the current Austrian owners has not been made public.

The painting was sold on behalf of these owners and the legal successors of Adolf and Henriette Lieser, based on the Washington Principles – an international agreement to return art looted by the Nazis to the descendants of the people from whom the pieces were taken.

Ernst Ploil from Kinsky told the BBC: “We have, according to the Washington principles, an agreement with the whole family.”

The im Kinsky catalog described this agreement as “a fair and just solution”.

However, Erika Jakubovits, executive director of the Presidency of the Austrian Jewish Community, said there were still “many unanswered questions.”

She has called for the matter to be investigated by “an independent party”.

“Art restitution is a very sensitive issue. All research must be carried out accurately and in detail and the result must be understandable and transparent,” said Ms Jakubovits.

“It must be ensured that a state-of-the-art procedure also exists for future private restitution.”

Klimt’s art has fetched enormous amounts of money at auctions in the past.

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