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Possible Heir Claims Klimt Portrait

April 30, 2024
Portrait of Fräulein Lieser by Gustav Klimt

Portrait of Fräulein Lieser by Gustav Klimt

A significant Gustav Klimt portrait has become the subject of an ownership dispute after a German man said it was his.

Portrait of Fräulein Lieser by Gustav Klimt sold at the Vienna auction house im Kinsky last week for €30 million / $32 million (or €38.5 million / $41.15 million w/p). The auction house specialists anticipated the painting to sell for as much as €50 million. However, some suspect that questions surrounding the portrait’s provenance may have scared away many potential buyers. The painting previously belonged to a wealthy Jewish family in Vienna, many of whose members died in the Holocaust. Between 1925 and the 1960s, ownership of the painting was mostly a matter of speculation. Im Kinsky reassured everyone that there is no evidence that the painting illegally changed hands during the Second World War. To quell residual fears, the family who owned the painting for the past fifty years consigned the work jointly with several of the Lieser family’s descendants. Despite news of the portrait’s recovery making the rounds back in January, it wasn’t until the day before the auction that a man in Germany claimed ownership of the painting.

According to a report in the Austrian newspaper Der Standard, the claimant, an architect in Munich, is likely not related to the Lieser family, yet that has not stopped him from making claims that he is the legal heir of Adolf Lieser, father of the portrait’s likely subject, Margarethe Lieser. Negotiations are currently underway involving all the interested parties. Even if this new claimant was a member of the Lieser family, there’s the matter of im Kinsky’s contract, which states that the descendants who consigned the Klimt did so on behalf of themselves as well as all possible heirs. Hong Kong art dealer Patti Wong, who bought the painting on behalf of an anonymous collector, said that she was assured this was the case. Im Kinsky’s contract further states that a new claim has no bearing on the validity of last week’s sale. From what is currently known, this latest challenge seems unlikely to succeed. However, we don’t know what information or evidence may come to light in a legal battle like this.