Bloomberg’s Scott Reyburn and Catherine Hickley tell the story behind one of Gustav Klimt’s last portraits which will be auctioned in London at Christie’s at the end of the month. The low estimate is £14m:
The work was one of three commissioned by Aranka Munk, the wife of a Viennese industrialist, after the death of her daughter Ria in 1911. Ria committed suicide at the age of 24 because of an unhappy love affair. […] The 7-foot-high (2.1 meter) canvas shows the dark-haired, rosy-cheeked Ria with her body in profile, her face turned toward the viewer, standing surrounded by abstract swirls of color. It was left incomplete in Klimt’s studio when the artist died in 1918. […] “The face is very finished, while the dress and other parts aren’t,” Bertazzoni said. “This is a portrait of a dead person and it almost looks as if she’s slipping away.” The painting was seized from the Munk family by the National Socialists during World War II and subsequently passed into the collection of the Neue Galerie der Stadt in Linz, Austria, now known as the Lentos Museum.
In June 2009, Linz city council voted to return the Klimt to the Munk heirs after new evidence indicated that the portrait was looted by the Nazis from Munk’s lakeside villa in Bad Aussee. The portrait was one of dozens of Klimt paintings owned by the extended family: Aranka Munk’s sister Serena Lederer owned the largest private collection of Klimt’s works, most of which were destroyed by the Nazis in the final days of World War II. Aranka spent her last summer in the villa in 1938. She was forced to sell part of the property to neighbors in 1941, according to art researcher Sophie Lillie. The Gestapo seized her remaining property in 1942.