SIU Incense Offering Ceremony

Looted Klimt Sold for Record £73m

A stunning portrait of a Viennese aristocrat which was looted by the Nazis and only returned to its rightful owner this year has been bought for what is thought to be the highest ever sum paid for a painting. 

Gustav Klimt's gold-encrusted Adele Bloch-Bauer I has been sold to the New York museum owned by the billionaire cosmetics heir Ronald L Lauder who, with his brother Leonard, are dominant figures in the New York art establishment.

Lauder is said by the New York Times to have paid $135m (£73m) for the painting, easily beating the previous record of $104m paid for Picasso's Boy With a Pipe by an unnamed bidder at Sotheby's two years ago.

Klimt's 1907 portrait of his patron and rumoured lover was taken in 1938 in the Hermann Goering-led plunder of art by the Nazis. It eventually found its way into the Belvedere Museum in Vienna and was the subject of a rancorous eight year battle between the Austrian government and the heirs of Adele Bloch-Bauer.

The case eventually reached the US supreme court, which ruled against the Austrian government in 2004. After arbitration it was decided that five Klimts should be returned to the heirs including Bloch-Bauer's elderly niece Maria Altmann, unless the Austrian government could raise the money to buy them back. They chose not to and for the last two months the Klimts have hung in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The painting, fortunately, seems destined for public display. Lauder owns the Neue Galerie, which occupies one of the most handsome buildings on Fifth Avenue in New York and devotes itself to early 20th century German and Austrian art and design. It contains 166 works including important paintings by artists including Klee, Kandinsky, Schiele and Gerstl.

Ms Altmann said: "It was important to the heirs and to my Aunt Adele that her painting be displayed in a museum. We chose a museum that is a bridge between Europe and the United States."

The Altmanns' family attorney, Steve Thomas, confirmed the sale but not the exact price, other than saying it was above the highest known sum paid for a painting. The four other Klimts will also be sold but in the meantime will hang alongside the gold portrait at the Neue Galerie from July 17 to September 18.

Michael Govan, director the LA County Museum of Art, told the Los Angeles Times he was disappointed to lose the painting. But he added: "The fact that it's going to a museum in America is great. Ronald Lauder is to be congratulated. The art has been a passion of his since he was a teenager. He's spent huge amounts of his life and his resources celebrating this art."

Randol Schoenberg, an LA attorney and family friend, told reporters: "It's terrific. They sold it for a fair price, and it's going to be on public display. It's going to be in a real art capital. For Maria and me, it would have been nice to have it in Los Angeles. But New York is a nice place to display it."

Guardian Unlimited © Copyright Guardian Newspapers 2008
Published: 6/19/2006


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