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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Sotheby’s to Auction Masterpiece by Gustav Klimt

On Wednesday, February 3, 2010, Sotheby’s London will offer for sale one of the most important landscapes by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) ever to have appeared on the market. Titled Kirche in Cassone (Landschaft mit Zypressen) (Church in Cassone – Landscape with Cypresses), 1913, it is the only surviving example of the artist’s work depicting Lake Garda. The painting once formed part of one of the greatest early collections of Klimt’s work: that of the Austro Hungarian iron magnate and collector Viktor Zuckerkandl (1851-1927) and his wife Paula. The painting went missing in Vienna during the Nazi period and only resurfaced several decades later. It is now being offered for sale pursuant to an agreement between the now 81-year old greatnephew of the original owner and the European private collector in whose family collection the painting has been for several years.

Estimated at £12–18 million ($19-29 million/ €13.5-20 million), the painting will be the centerpiece of Sotheby’s forthcoming Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art in London.

Commenting on the painting, Helena Newman, Vice-Chairman, Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art department worldwide, said: “We are delighted to offer at auction Kirche in Cassone, one of the finest examples of Klimt’s landscape painting. The artist’s great achievement here was to combine the beauty and picturesque quality of the townscape with a highly personal, innovative technique. The dramatic perspective and the jewel-like, shimmering effect of his brushwork make this a composition of timeless beauty, a true masterpiece of Klimt’s art.”

The painting dates from a trip that the artist made to Lake Garda in the summer of 1913 with his muse and lover Emilie Flöge – a charismatic fashion designer and trend-setter with whom Klimt enjoyed “one of the most famous romantic partnerships of turn of the century Vienna” (Gustav Klimt & Emilie Flöge: Artist & Muse, Property from the Estate of Emilie Flöge, Sotheby’s 6 October 1999). Flöge was a profound influence on Klimt, inspiring some of his greatest paintings.

The importance of this particular work was not lost on the painting’s first owners, Viktor and Paula Zuckerkandl. They and their family were at the heart of Viennese social and cultural life, counting among their friends people such as the playwright Arthur Schnitzler, the composers Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoënberg, and collectors such as Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer and August and Serena Lederer. The Zuckerkandls were also among the greatest patrons of the arts in turn of the century Vienna: Viktor and Paula were early collectors of Klimt’s work, acquiring several extremely important pictures, including this, directly from the artist. They were patrons, too, of the Secessionist architect Josef Hoffmann, whom they commissioned to design the Wiener Werkstatt architectural masterpiece, the Sanatorium Purkersdorf, which Viktor founded and ran on the outskirts of Vienna. An exclusive spa, the sanatorium was a meeting place for the social, cultural and artistic elite. Completed in 1905, it was a Gesamtkunstwerk entirely furnished by the Wiener Werkstatt group, of which Klimt was a founding father.

When the Zuckerkandls died childless in 1927, part of their extraordinary collection was sold and the remainder passed into his remarkable family. Kirche in Cassone entered the collection of Viktor’s sister Amalie Redlich, who, together with her daughter Mathilde, was deported to Lodz in 1941 and never heard of again. After the Anschluss in 1938 she had made arrangements for her paintings to be stored by a shipping company. She paid the company’s foreman a hefty bribe of 2,000 Reichsmarks to ensure the safe-keeping of the crates, but although that may have prevented her property from being seized by the Gestapo, the paintings had nonetheless disappeared from the crates by 1947 when Redlich’s son-in-law returned and found the crates empty at the shipper’s premises. Only much later did Kirche in Cassone resurface in a private collection. Though the picture was acquired by the family of the present owner in good faith and with legal title, they have voluntarily agreed with the Zuckerkandl heir to offer this magnificent painting at auction.

The Artist and the Painting
Gustav Klimt (1862-1819) was the presiding influence on the artists and designers in turn of the century Vienna. He was the leading figure of the Wiener Werkstatt movement and the first president of the Sezession, which he founded in 1897.

Kirche in Cassone belongs to a celebrated series of lake paintings that rank among Klimt’s most important works. In these compositions, Klimt uses the reflections in the water to explore the picture plane in an innovative way. Here Klimt builds up his vision of the town through a mosaic of bright colours, with the houses rising vertiginously above the water. The flattening of the picture surface and the use of overlapping geometric forms undoubtedly show Klimt’s response to Cubism, which he had experienced during his trip to Paris in 1909, and later discussed with the younger avant-garde artist Egon Schiele (1890-1918).

In parallel with what Claude Monet was doing at the same time, Klimt started using square canvases which, together with the abandoning of traditional conventions of horizon and composition took landscape painting in a new and exciting direction. In contrast to his more meticulously planned figure compositions for which he generally executed large groups of pencil studies, there are scarcely any preparatory studies for the landscapes. As such, they bear witness to Klimt’s most direct response to the natural world, seen through the prism of his own unique vision.