Gustav Klimt : king of the auctions
Last summer, Oprah Winfrey sold a Gustav Klimt portrait – called “Adele Bloch-Bauer II” – for $150 million to a Chinese collector, in one of the biggest private art deals of 2016. Winfrey and the U.S. dealer who engineered the sale, Larry Gagosian, made a tidy profit from the sale. She had previously purchased the portrait of the Jewish industrialist’s wife, a renowned hostess of the time, painted in 1912, for about $93.5 million.
Up until that point, the other version of the portrait – “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” from 1907, also known as “Golden Adele” – was better known, having been sold in 2006 to U.S. cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder for a rumored $135 million. Although the price was never officially confirmed, this made the Klimt work the most expensive painting ever at the time. It was only eclipsed six months later by Jackson Pollock’s No. 5 painting, which sold for $140 million.
The sales of that Klimt painting and a further four others from the same estate were a watershed moment in the evolution of Klimt prices. When the auction house, Christie’s, first sold a Klimt painting in 1971 – it was a 1904 portrait of “HermineGallias” – the canvas brought in just $26,076. Five years later, the portrait found a permanent home in the National Gallery in London.
In terms of the evolution of the value of his work, it was Klimt’s landscapes that really marked the milestones. Most of the portraits he did were commissioned but the landscapes he painted for his own pleasure. Klimt painted 50 such paintings and 46 of these survived the two European world wars. Today there are 19 in museum collections and the rest are owned privately.
Last week, the star lot of Sotheby’s auction house in London was Klimt’s“Flower Garden”, 1907,which sold for about 60 $million.
It was a last-minute consignment and one imagines that this may have had to do with news of the Oprah Winfrey sale leaking out. The painting was once part of the inventory at the National Gallery in Prague, who exchanged it in 1968.
It passed through various other hands before coming up for auction again at Christie’s in London in 1994, when the present owner bought it for around $5.8 million. “Flower Garden” is a record breaking price for a landscape painting that follows on from another Klimt landscape, Birch Forest, which sold at Christie’s for $40.3 million in 2006.
In fact, Ms. Winfrey’s sale of her Klimt is not the highest price ever paid for an artwork by the Austrian painter, who died in 1918. That would be another work called “Water Serpents II” that changed hands rather rapidly, in a somewhat dubious manner. It was eventually sold to a Russian billionaire, Dmitry M. Rybolovlev, for a reported $183 million.
In 2015, the Russian collector, who owns billions of dollars’ worth of fine art, sold the piece on to an Asian collector for a reported $170 million. Ironically this puts Mr. Rybolovlev in the record books too. He is the first to make a loss – $13 million – on the sale of a Klimt.