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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Potential Legal Heir Emerges to Claim Klimt Portrait Sold in Vienna

A potential heir to the legal successor of Adolf Lieser has emerged and claimed ownership of the Gustav Klimt portrait sold for $32 million in a buzzy auction in Vienna, per Der Standard. The individual, a Munich-based architect, is not a relative of the Leiser family, but lodged a claim after learning last week that the painting missing for a century had resurfaced at im Kinksy auction house.

Titled Portrait of Fräulein Lieser (1917), the work was purchased by an anonymous Hong Kong dealer for its low estimate (but still an art auction record for Austria). The work is unfinished, but Klimt rarely underperforms on the block; bidders, perhaps, were afraid of this very situation, an ownership challenge supported by gaps in the portrait’s provenance. 

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Potential Legal Heir Emerges to Claim Klimt Portrait Sold in Vienna

According to Der Standard, the restitution settlement reached by the auction house only involved the seller and the heirs of Adolf Lieser and his sister-in-law Lilly Lieser. Typically, heirs declare that their decision—in this case, to give the painting to the auction house—represents the will of all possible legal heirs. When contacted for comment, the lawyers of both parties told the German news outlet that the situation was under review by the clients. 

According to im Kinsky, the painting, one of Klimt’s last works, resurfaced in the private collection of an Austrian citizen. “A painting of such rarity, artistic significance and value has not been available on the art market in Central Europe for decades,” the auction house said in a press statement on its website. 

Catalogs of Klimt’s works (2007 and 2012) identify the subject of the portrait as an 18-year-old Margarethe Constance Lieser (b. 1899), the daughter of the industrial magnate Adolf Lieser. Klimt likely began painting the portrait in 1917, only a year before his death from a stroke. The painting—barring a few unfinished spots—was later given to the Lieser family. 

Its history past 1925 is largely speculation. The auction house said it was acquired by a legal predecessor of the consignor in the 1960s and was inherited by the current owner via three successive inheritances.

Patti Wong, owner of the Hong Kong–based art advisory that bid for the anonymous buyer told the South China Morning Post, “We have been assured that the seller and all Lieser heirs are covered [by the contract between the auction house and the consignor].”

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