Final portrait by Klimt sold for $94 million, smashing European auction record

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The last portrait painted by Gustav Klimt was sold in London on Tuesday for £74 million ($94.3 million), setting a new European art auction record.

The celebrated Austrian symbolist’s “Dame mit Facher” (Lady with a Fan) went under the hammer at Sotheby’s.

The previous auction record for an artwork sold in Europe was for Alberto Giacometti’s “Walking Man I,” which went for £65 million in February 2010.

Described as a “beautiful, rich and alluring portrait of an unnamed woman,” Klimt’s portrait was found on his easel in his studio when he died unexpectedly in February 1918 aged 55.

Helena Newman, from Sotheby’s, said earlier it was painted during Klimt’s artistic prime, when he was producing some of his most famous and experimental works.

“Many of those works, certainly the portraits for which he is best known, were commissions,” said Newman, who is in charge of Sotheby’s Europe and global head of Impressionist and Modern Art.

“This, though, is something completely different — a technical tour de force, full of boundary-pushing experimentation, as well as a heartfelt ode to absolute beauty.”

Gustav Klimt’s ‘Dame mit Faecher’ (Lady with a Fan) is displayed at Sotheby’s auction rooms in London, Tuesday, June 20, 2023. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The work was last sold in 1994, going for $11.6 million at an auction in New York.

Sotheby’s said the buyer was art adviser Patti Wong, acting on behalf of a Hong Kong collector.

Other earlier record breakers include Claude Monet’s “Le bassin aux nympheas” which went for £40.9 million at Christie’s in London in June 2008. Last March, Rene Magritte’s “L’empire des lumieres” sold for £59.4 million at Sotheby’s.

Famed for his bold, daring art nouveau paintings, Klimt was a key figure in artistic modernism at the start of the 20th century. His work has fetched some of the highest prices for any artist, though a number of his pieces that were looted by Nazis have been the subjects of high-profile art restitution cases.

Klimt portraits rarely come onto the open market. Sotheby’s said the only other of the same standard — “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II” (1912) — sold for $87.9 million at Christie’s in New York in 2006. The piece, which depicts the wife of a Jewish sugar industrialist, went privately for $150 million in 2017.

An Italian Policeman, left, and a Carabiniere, paramilitary police officer, stand beside a painting which was found last December near an art gallery and believed to be the missing Gustav Klimt’s painting ‘Portrait of a Lady’ during a press conference in Piacenza, Italy, Jan. 17, 2020 (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

“Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I”, sold for $135 million in 2006 to the Neue Galerie in New York.

Klimt’s landscape “Birch Forest” sold at Christie’s in New York last year for $104.6 million.

Although the hammer price for Tuesday’s Klmit sale was £74 million, the buyer will pay £85.3 million ($108.4 million) when the buyer’s premium — the standard fee charged by auction houses — is factored in.

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