Christie’s to Auction Gustav Klimt Portrait in London

Christie’s announced that they will offer one of the last of the great female portraits painted by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) at the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale in London on 23 June 2010. Executed in 1917-18, Frauenbildnis (Portrait of Ria Munk III) is the third and final painting in a series of three portraits commissioned by the Munk family of their daughter Ria. One of the last and most modern of Klimt’s full-length female portraits, the painting offers a glimpse into the working methods of one of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century and is expected to realise £14 million to £18 million.

Giovanna Bertazzoni, Director and Head of Impressionist and Modern art at Christie’s, London: “It is an exceptionally rare occasion to be able to offer at auction a late portrait by Gustav Klimt, let alone a portrait of such importance; this is only the second or third comparable example to be offered at auction in over 20 years. Gustav Klimt is an artist with an international following and we look forward to offering this exceptional work to collectors from around the world in London in June.”

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) rose to prominence as the foremost avant-garde artist at the turn of the 20th century in the thriving, creative artistic centre of Vienna. Aranka Munk was the sister of Serena Lederer, Klimt’s most important patron. When Aranka’s daughter Ria committed suicide with a shot to the chest in December 1911 having fallen out with her lover, the writer Hans Heinz Ewers, Aranka Munk commissioned Klimt to paint a death-bed portrait of her daughter. The first two efforts were turned away by the Munks – the second version was subsequently altered and is now widely believed to be Die Tänzerin, the magnificent portrait of a dancer, now in the Neue Galerie in New York.

In 1917 Klimt began the present work which depicts Ria who stands sideways and turns to face the viewer with a serene smile. As with his other most celebrated works, including the iconic Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, the artist envelops the subject in a richly decorative background, drawing from his passion for Eastern art and iconography of which he was an avid collector. The face and surrounding detail are complete, while the dress and the floor are traced in charcoal in a fascinating ‘non finito’. While he would prepare thoroughly for each composition with a series of drawings, this canvas also offers a glimpse into Klimt’s working methods, revealing that at this stage of his career he was impulsive and spontaneous, drawing directly onto the canvas.

Soon after Klimt’s death in 1918, the painting passed into the possession of Aranka Munk. The painting was then housed in her lakeside villa in Bad Aussee until 1941 when the villa and its contents were seized by the National Socialists and the portrait passed into the hands of the collector and dealer William Gurlitt. In 1953 Frauenbildnis was among a number of important paintings that Gurlitt donated to the Neue Galerie der Stadt in Linz which came to be known as the Lentos Museum. The painting subsequently remained in the Lentos Museum, Linz until June 2009 when it was voluntarily restituted to the heirs of Aranka Munk whose heirs have entrusted Christie’s to sell the painting on their behalf.