What makes this painting so special and worth its exorbitant price? Is it because of the artist who created it, or the woman he painted, or its controversial history? The answer is probably all of the above.3. “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” by Gustav Klimt, sold in 2006 for $135 million. Inflation-adjusted price $144.4 million.
Skillfully painted in 1907 by the art nouveau master Gustav Klimt, it flaunts elaborate and complex ornamentation in oil and gold on canvas. Measuring 54x54 inches (138x138 cm), the composition took Klimt three years to complete.
The painting was commissioned by Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy Vienna industrialist. In 1925, his wife Adele indicated in her will that the painting of her should be donated to the Austrian State Gallery. But when the Nazis took over Austria, her widowed husband Ferdinand had to flee to Switzerland. His property, including Adele’s portrait and four other Klimts, was confiscated.
Although Ferdinand and Adele had no children, he had designated his nephew and nieces, including Maria Altmann, as the inheritors of his estate.
Following WWII, the Austrian government took the position that Adele’s will had determined that the pictures were to remain in Austria. After a long court battle the Austrian court finally established that the surviving niece, Maria Altmann, was the rightful owner.
The paintings were sent to America in 2006. Soon after, in a record-breaking sale, Klimt’s portrait of Adele was sold to philanthropist Ronald Lauder, the son of Joseph and Estee Lauder, founders the cosmetics empire.
Today the painting is a centerpiece in Lauder’s collection for his Neue Galerie in New York, which has for years attempted to recover Jewish-owned art confiscated or looted by the Nazis. Lauder’s comment on the acquisition for his Neue Galerie collection: “This is our Mona Lisa.”
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