The Story Behind The Once Lost ‘Portrait of Fräulein Lieser’

Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Fräulein Lieser” disappeared in 1925, but was recently sold for $32 million.

Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Fräulein Lieser” had vanished for nearly a century but resurfaced earlier this year. Last month, it went under a prestigious auction event in Vienna, Austria. The painting highlights its enigmatic subject in a turquoise dress with a flowing floral gown draped on it, with the woman posed against a red background. It also showed Klimt’s symbolism, sensuality, and signature brush strokes.

It is considered as one of Klimt’s last works. Austrian auction house Im Kinsky spearheaded the item’s sale among 18 other items. The painting sold for $32 million.

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“Previously considered lost”

Auction house Im Kinsky enlisted the “Portrait of Fräulein Lieser” on its Gustav Klimt sale online catalog. Its value amounts between €30 million to €50 million ($32 million to $53.4 million).

Im Kinsky chronicled that the painting was “previously considered lost.” However, it remained hidden in private Austrian ownership for many decades. 

Smithsonian Magazine said in a report that the painting was last documented in 1925 and after that, it vanished from the records.

Its current owners contacted Im Kinsky in 2022, which led to the rediscovery of the “Portrait of Fräulein Lieser.” CNN mentioned that a legal predecessor of the consignor in the 1960s obtained the painting and went to the current owners through three consecutive inheritances. They have remained anonymous.

Private Austrian citizens owned the “Portrait of Fräulein Lieser”
Private Austrian citizens owned the “Portrait of Fräulein Lieser”/Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The winning bid

Klimt’s notable painting went on the auction block on April 24 and sold at the lower end of its valuation. Bidding started at €28 million, up until it reached the hammer price of €30 million ($32 million). This does not include the auction house’s fees.

The live auction event of Im Kinsky revealed the sitter, Fräulein Lieser, visited Klimt’s studio nine times in April and May 1917. He conducted about 25 initial drawings and is believed to have started painting around May of that year.

The rediscovered “Portrait of Fräulein Lieser” goes under the auction block and is sold for $32 million.

Im Kinsky put it on display in January this year before placing it for auction this month. 

Klimt’s subject, Fräulein Lieser

Im Kinsky explained that the first critical catalog of Klimt’s paintings labeled the subject as Fräulein Lieser. More recent catalogs of works from Weidinger 2007 and Natter 2012 identified the sitter, or the person who sits for a painting, as Margarethe Constance Lieser, daughter of industrial magnate Adolf Lieser.

However, the auction house also conducted new research based on its history and provenance. It concluded it was possible that Klimt’s model could have been either Helene Lieser, the first-born of Henriette Amalie Lieser-Landau and Justus Lieser, or their younger daughter, Annie Lieser.

Henriette was married to Justus Lieser, Adolf’s brother and is also a prominent industrialist in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. She passionately supported art and might have commissioned Klimt to paint one of her daughters. The auction house also mentioned Adolf commissioned the painter to do a portrait of his daughter, Margarethe Constance.

Im Kinsky gets in depth about the rediscovery of the “Portrait of Fräulein Lieser” and the possible subjects of the painting.

Reuters expressed that despite Klimt’s clear and vibrant painting, it was unclear who the subject really was.

The Lieser family was within the circle of the wealthy Viennese society where the painter found his clients. 

One of Klimt’s last paintings

The auction house said Klimt chose a three-quarter portrait to depict the young woman who did a strict frontal pose. The artwork featured the artist’s precise, sensitive, and naturalistic strokes. Part of it also showed the free, open brushwork of his style.

The “Portrait of Fräulein Lieser” is considered to be one of Klimt’s last paintings. He died of a stroke in 1918 and left the painting in his studio, where it was seen to have small unfinished parts.

“The rediscovery of this portrait, one of the most beautiful of Klimt’s last creative period, is a sensation,” Im Kinsky remarked. “His portraits of women are seldom offered at auctions. A painting of such rarity, artistic significance, and value has not been available on the art market in central Europe for decades.”

Banner photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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