Klimt Portrait Sets European Auction Record: $108 Million

A portrait of an unnamed woman by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt sold for 85.3 million pounds ($108.4 million) on Tuesday, setting a record price for any work of art sold at an auction in Europe, London-based auction house Sotheby’s said.  

The painting, which had been given a guide price of 65 million pounds ($82.9 million), was sold after a tense 10-minute bidding war as auctioneer Helena Newman, Sotheby’s head of impressionist and modern art, eked out the final bids in half-million pound increments.

Described by Newman as a “technical tour de force, full of boundary-pushing experimentation, as well as a heartfelt ode to absolute beauty,” the painting titled “Dame mit Fächer” (“Lady with a Fan”) was still on an easel in Klimt’s studio when he died in February 1918.

“It was created when he was still in his artistic prime and brings together all the technical prowess and creative exuberance that define his greatest work,” she said.

The fall of the hammer at 74 million pounds broke the tension, triggering a collective exhalation in the room and a round of applause. The total price includes fees.

The painting sold to a Hong Kong-based art advisory firm, bidding on behalf of a collector based there.

The previous highest price for a painting sold at auction in Europe was Claude Monet’s “Le Bassin Aux Nympheas” in 2008 at $80.4 million, while the record for any work of art sold at auction in Europe was set by Alberto Giacometti’s bronze “Walking Man I,” which went for $104.3 million in 2010.  

Sotheby’s said the painting was one of a small number of Klimt’s portraits in private collections. It is now the most expensive Klimt artwork sold at auction anywhere in the world.

It was last offered for sale nearly 30 years ago, when it was acquired by the family of the present owner for $11.6 million, according to the auction house.

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