Gustav Klimt painting sells for $39 million at Sotheby's auction

Gustav Klimt painting sells for $39 million at Sotheby's auction
Two employees of Sotheby's auction house pose by a portrait of Gertrud Loew (Gertha Felsovanyi) by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt painted in 1902. (Justin Tallis / AFP/Getty Images)

A painting by Gustav Klimt, "Portrait of Gertrud Loew," brought in $39.1 million at a Sotheby's auction in London on Wednesday, beating the auction house's pre-sale estimates. The auction of Impressionist and modern art included a Max Liebermann canvas that had been recovered from the late Cornelius Gurlitt, the German octogenarian whose hidden stash of more than 1,000 works was revealed to the world in 2013 and was believed to have included pieces seized by Nazi forces during the Holocaust.

The Klimt painting, which dates from 1902, was jointly owned by the Klimt Foundation and the heirs of the subject of the painting, who was also known as Gertha Felsovanyi. Her grandfather, Heinrich Loew, founded Vienna's Loew Sanatorium, where Klimt himself was once a patient. Her husband, Elemér Baruch von Felsovanyi, was a Hungarian industrialist.


Dr. Anton Loew, who was Gertrud's father and at one point served as Klimt's physician, commissioned the work.

The full-length portrait was expected by Sotheby's to sell for between $19 million and $28 million. The winning bidder wasn't publicly identified by the auction house.

Klimt paintings have become a rarity at auction as most are in museums and private collections. The sum realized on Wednesday is far from an record for a work by the artist -- his 1907 portrait "Adele Bloch-Bauer I," the subject of a legal battle by the late Maria Altmann, and the focus of the recent Helen Mirren movie "Woman in Gold," was purchased by Ronald S. Lauder for $135 million in 2006. It now resides at the Neue Galerie in New York.

Liebermann's 1901 canvas "Two Riders on a Beach to the Left" sold Wednesday for $2.9 million, far exceeding the estimates that it would go for less than $1 million. The artwork was one of many recovered from Gurlitt's hidden trove in Germany, and was recently returned to the heirs of David Friedmann, a German businessman who is believed to have acquired the work by 1905 at the latest.

A New York-based descendant of Friedmann sued Germany last year in U.S. court over the painting and another work. According to Sotheby's, Gurlitt's estate restituted "Two Riders" to the heirs of Friedmann this year.

Gurlitt was the son of Hildebrand Gurlitt, a well-known German art dealer who worked with the Third Reich.

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