Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of “Fräulein Lieser”

Dora Aguero
May 8, 2024

Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Fräulein Lieser, a painting considered lost for a century, recently made a remarkable reappearance, and was auctioned for $32 million at Vienna’s im Kinsky auction house. The sale of this long-lost masterpiece, though met with great anticipation, also brought to light new questions about its provenance and potential legal heirs, adding an intriguing dimension to the event.

The Reappearance of “Fräulein Lieser”

The painting, believed to have been created in 1917 during Klimt’s final creative period, had been shrouded in mystery until its rediscovery by the Viennese auction house. Previously known only through a black-and-white photograph, its sudden reappearance generated significant excitement within the art world.

Gustav Klimt Fraulein Lieser

Prior to the auction, approximately 15,000 visitors had the opportunity to view the painting at im Kinsky, reflecting the widespread interest in this rare find. Despite high expectations, the painting sold for $32 million, at the lower end of its valuation range, sparking discussions about its true value and historical significance.

Gustav Klimt’s Sitter for “Fräulein Lieser”

While the subject of the painting is known to have been a member of the Lieser family, the exact identity of the sitter remains uncertain. Scholars have speculated that the subject may be Margarethe Lieser, daughter of Adolf and Silvia Lieser, or possibly one of her cousins, Helene or Annie Lieser, daughters of Justus Lieser.

A Last-Minute Heir

The emergence of a new potential legal heir, a Munich-based architect, added further complexity to the auction. This individual filed a claim with Austria’s Federal Monuments Office, alleging potential ties to Lieser’s legal successors. The claimant, not directly related to the Lieser family, became aware of the painting’s existence and controversy through previous reports in German publication Süddeutsche Zeitung.

The painting’s journey during the Nazi era remains unclear, but the im Kinsky auction house conducted the sale in accordance with the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art. While there is no evidence to suggest the painting was looted or illegally acquired, the auction raised questions about its ownership and historical context.

Record Sale

In an interesting twist, the auction ultimately set a record price for any artwork sold at an Austrian auction, despite the ongoing legal and historical inquiries surrounding the painting. The sale price of $32 million reaffirmed the enduring appeal and value of Klimt’s work in the art market.

As the legal battle over the painting’s ownership continues, its story serves as a reminder of the complexities involved in provenance research and restitution in the art world. The rediscovery and auction of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Fräulein Lieser highlight the enduring intrigue and significance of lost masterpieces, while also raising important questions about ethics and justice in the art market.

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