Long-lost Klimt portrait goes under the hammer at Vienna auction

Long-lost Klimt portrait goes under the hammer at Vienna auction

A painting by Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt that reappeared after nearly a century will be sold at auction in Vienna today, despite questions surrounding its provenance.

"Bildnis Fraeulein Lieser" (“Portrait of Miss Lieser”) was commissioned by a wealthy Jewish industrialist's family and painted by Klimt in 1917 - a year before his death.

The unfinished portrait of a dark-haired woman was likely last seen at a Viennese exhibition in 1925. It reemerged this year when Austria’s second-largest auction house im Kinsky announced its sale.

"No one expected that a painting of this importance, which had disappeared for 100 years, would resurface," said im Kinsky expert Claudia Moerth-Gasse.

The auction house estimates its value at up to €50 million, but Klimt works have sold for higher prices at recent auctions.

"Bildnis Fraeulein Lieser" (“Portrait of Miss Lieser”)
"Bildnis Fraeulein Lieser" (“Portrait of Miss Lieser”) - im Kinsky

Mystery surrounds the identity of the model. It is believed to be one of the daughters of either Adolf or Justus Lieser, who were brothers from a wealthy family of Jewish industrialists.

The first catalogue dedicated to Klimt, dating from the 1960s, states it is Adolf Lieser's niece, Margarethe.

The im Kinsky auction house in Vienna, which is auctioning the artwork, suggests the painting could depict one of the two daughters of Justus Lieser and his wife Henriette (Lilly) - Helene and Annie,

Lilly Lieser remained in Vienna despite the Nazi takeover, was deported in 1942 and murdered in the Auschwitz internment camp in 1943.

Before her death, Lieser seems to have entrusted the painting to a member of her staff, Austrian daily Der Standard found based on correspondence in an Austrian museum.

It then turned up in the possession of a Nazi trader, whose daughter inherited it and who in turn left it to distant relatives after her death.

Im Kinsky, which specializes in restitution procedures, insists it has found no evidence that the work was stolen or unlawfully seized. However, some experts have called for a more in-depth investigation of the work's provenance however.

"Several points should be questioned more critically, as the provenance of the picture has not yet been completely clarified," Monika Mayer, head of archives at the Belvedere museum, which houses Klimt's famous "Kiss", was quoted as saying by Austria's Profil magazine.

Last June, Klimt's final work "Dame mit Fächer" (“Lady with a Fan”) broke the European auction record by selling for £74 million (€86 million) at Sotheby's in London.