Gustav Klimt portrait worth £42m found after disappearing nearly a century ago

A painting by the Austrian symbolist artist Gustav Klimt has been found in Vienna almost 100 years after it disappeared and was feared lost.

“Portrait of Miss Lieser (Bildnis Fraeulein Lieser)” once belonged to a Jewish family in Austria and was last seen publicly in 1925.

It was one of the final works to be completed by Klimt, who died of a stroke in 1918. For almost a century, the only evidence of the painting’s existence was a single photograph held in the archives of the Austrian National Library.

The im Kinsky auction house in Vienna called the rediscovery “a sensation”, and estimates the painting’s value at more than $54m (£42m).

In a statement, im Kinsky said: “A painting of such rarity, artistic significance and value has not been available on the art market in Central Europe for decades.”

The portrait will be put up for auction on 24 April on behalf of the owners, and the legal successors of the Lieser family.

Gustav Klimt’s ‘Portrait of Miss Lieser (Bildnis Fraeulein Lieser)’ on display in Vienna, 25 January 2024 (APA/AFP via Getty Images)
Gustav Klimt’s ‘Portrait of Miss Lieser (Bildnis Fraeulein Lieser)’ on display in Vienna, 25 January 2024 (APA/AFP via Getty Images)

This is based on the Washington Principles, an international agreement established in 1998 to return Nazi-looted art to the descendants of those they were taken from.

Prior to the auction, the painting will be exhibited at a number of international locations including in the UK, Switzerland, Germany and Hong Kong.

The portrait once belonged to the Lieser family, who were wealthy Jewish industrialists in Vienna.

The model for the painting is labeled as Fräulein Lieser, or Margarethe Constance Lieser, who was the daughter of industrial magnate Adolf Lieser. However, research by the im Kinsky auction house has raised the possibility that the subject may have been another member of the Lieser family.

“In April and May 1917, the sitter visited Klimt’s studio in Hietzing nine times to pose for him,” im Kinsky said. “Klimt probably began the painting in May 1917. The painter chose a three-quarter portrait for his depiction and shows the young woman in a strictly frontal pose, close to the foreground, against a red, undefined background. A cape richly decorated with flowers is draped around her shoulders.”

Klimt’s art has fetched huge sums at auction in recent years. Last June, the final portrait Klimt painted before his death sold for £85.3m ($108.4m) at a London auction.

Sotheby’s said the sale of “Lady With A Fan (Dame Mit Facher)” in New Bond Street set a new record for Klimt, as well as becoming the most valuable work of art sold at auction in Europe.