Could This Piece of Art Soon Become Europe’s Most-Expensive Ever?

The work in question is up for auction later this month

A bidder holds up his bidding sign during the Katharine Hepburn auction at Sotheby's June 10, 2004 in New York City.
It'll be the first time the painting has come to auction in nearly three decades
Getty Images

In art news, a piece being auctioned at Sotheby’s in London on June 27 could be the most expensive painting ever sold in Europe. The piece in question is Gustav Klimt’s “Lady With Fan,” which was the last painting he completed before his death in 1918. The painting hasn’t come to auction in almost 30 years and is expected to fetch £65 million ($80 million).

gustav klimt Lady With Fan painting
Klimt’s “Lady With Fan”

According to Smithsonian, Klimt was a respected portraitist in his later years, but “Lady With Fan” is different because experts say he wasn’t commissioned to paint it. One of his favorite subjects was beautiful Viennese women, so this work was something that he did solely for himself. “This is clearly not someone’s daughter who has been sent to have her portrait painted! It is Klimt experimenting and pushing the boundaries,” Helena Newman, Sotheby’s head of Impressionist and modern art, told the Art Newspaper, which also reported that “Lady With Fan” will carry the highest estimate ever placed on an auctioned painting in Europe or the U.K. Town and Country noted recently that the record for most expensive artwork auctioned in Europe is held by “Walking Man I,” by Alberto Giacometti, which went for a cool $104.3 million in February 2010.

Although Klimt was often commissioned for paintings, he was quite controversial in the artist community. He founded the Vienna Secession movement, a group of artists that rejected academic art and instead supported a “highly decorative style.” Suggestive scenes, bright colors, bold patterns and gold leaf were all favored by the artist, and many of these elements can be seen in “Lady With Fan.”

Klimt became a student of Asian art in the 1890s, and the Chinese and Japanese influences are also apparent in this painting. The style honors Japanese woodblock portraits, and birds that are considered good fortune in East Asian art — like a phoenix, crane and golden pheasant — are depicted in the work.

Eighty million is certainly a pretty penny, but it’s on par with the value of Klimt’s other works, which have increased in value in the past few decades. Last year, “Birch Forest I” sold for $104.5 million in New York.

The current owners of “Lady With Fan” lended the painting to Upper Belvedere museum in Vienna recently. Time will tell where it will hang next.

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