A painting with unclear provenance by the most famous Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt, was recently discovered in a private collection in the Alpine country and will be auctioned on April 24. The Portrait of Mademoiselle Lieser (1917), one of the artist's late works commissioned by a wealthy Jewish family and whose last known owner died in deportation in 1943, was presented to the public on Thursday in Vienna. The painting, very well preserved, appeared for the last time during an exhibition in Vienna in 1925, as evidenced by a black and white photo, the only proof of its existence.
On the inventory sheet, the words: “1925 - in possession of Mrs. Lieser, IV, Argentinierstrasse 20”. The painting then disappeared before resurfacing when its current owners requested legal advice when inheriting it from distant relatives, who had owned it since the 1960s.
What happened to the work in the meantime remains a mystery, expert Ernst Ploil of Kinsky told the press, despite extensive research. Henriette Lieser, patron of the Viennese avant-garde, remained in Vienna despite the Nazi dictatorship, was deported in 1942 and then assassinated the following year. Its rights holders were contacted and some came to see the painting, which has not been claimed until now and has never appeared on restitution lists.
“We have no indication that it could have been confiscated by the Nazis,” insisted Ernst Ploil. But in the event of future dispute over the painting's provenance, a contract was made between the descendants of the Lieser family and the new owners, under the Washington Accords of 1998, in which 44 states, including Austria, agreed. committed to finding and returning works of art stolen by the Nazis.
Unfinished, the Portrait of Mademoiselle Lieser represents a young brunette woman, whose jacket with colorful patterns stands out against a red background. It could be sold for between 30 and 50 million euros, according to the Kinsky house, which even imagines the auctions rising up to 70 million, given the recent records of Klimt, who died in 1918 in Vienna. In June 2023, his Lady with the Fan found a buyer at Sotheby's in London for more than 86 million euros (74 million pounds), an unprecedented amount for a work of art sold at auction in Europe. Before its sale, presented as unprecedented in Austria, the work will be exhibited in Switzerland, Germany, Great Britain and even Hong Kong.