Klimt Portrait Breaks European Auction Record

July 16, 2023
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The Gustav Klimt painting Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan) has sold for a record-breaking £85.3m at auction at Sotheby’s Modern and contemporary art evening sale, London. The Guardian reports that this is the most valuable work of art that has ever been sold at auction in Europe.

The artwork was painted in 1917, and was the last portrait he painted before his demise in the same year at the age of just 55. The sale price comfortably surpassed the pre-auction estimate of £65m to smash the European art auction record. The purchaser was Patti Wong of Patti Wong & Associates, who was bidding on behalf of a Hong Kong based client.

The painting is influenced by Eastern artistic traditions, and features a woman wearing a kimono that has slipped off one shoulder as she holds a strategically positioned fan. Her hair is pinned up and her face conforms with the artist’s ideal of sensual feminine beauty. The identity of the woman is unknown.

In the background of the painting are various decorative symbols that are found in examples of traditional Chinese artworks. These include the lotus flower, the phoenix, and the crane, which are thought to represent good fortune, love, and immortality. The painting is full of exquisite detail and depicts a happy and self-assured woman.

Helena Newman, the chair of Sotheby’s Europe and worldwide head of impressionist and modern art, said: “Dame mit Fächer is the last portrait Gustav Klimt created before his untimely death, when still in his artistic prime and producing some of his most accomplished and experimental works.”

“Many of those works, certainly the portraits for which he is best known, were commissions. This, though, is something completely different – a technical tour de force, full of boundary-pushing experimentation, as well as a heartfelt ode to absolute beauty.”

For many years, the painting was in the collection of Rudolf Leopold, before being sold to the current vendor in 1994 at auction in New York, when it achieved a price of $11.6m. Klimt is a perennially popular artist who is loved by connoisseurs and the more general public alike. His previous auction record was for Birch Forest, which fetched $104.6m in 2022.

He was born near Vienna, Austria, in 1862, and had a conventional artist’s training. He later became a founding member of the Wiener Sezession (Vienna Secession), which supported more experimental and anti-establishment approaches to art.

Klimt achieved both commercial and critical success in his lifetime.  His most famous work is perhaps The Kiss (1907-8), an oil on canvas painting with gold and silver detailing. The painting is on display in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere museum in the Belvedere, Vienna.

When questioned on the current climate of the art market,  Newman said: “Buyers for several seasons have been more price sensitive.” She added: “Tonight was a strong affirmation of strength in the market.”


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