Klimt’s art-historical importance as the leader of the turn-of-the-century Vienna Secession movement, and the decorative sumptuousness of his paintings, have always made him a highly valued artist. But those values soared into a different dimension in 2006 when the New York-based cosmetics magnate Ronald S. Lauder paid $135 million for the artist’s gold-drenched 1907 portrait of a prominent Viennese society hostess, “Adele Bloch-Bauer I.”
The price, negotiated in a private sale, was, at the time, the highest given for any work of art. That masterwork, from Klimt’s so-called Golden Phase, had been the subject of a protracted restitution case dramatized in a 2015 movie starring Helen Mirren. “Woman in Gold” is now the centerpiece exhibit of Lauder’s Neue Galerie museum in New York.
More recently, in 2017, in another private transaction, Oprah Winfrey sold Klimt’s 1912 “Adele Bloch-Bauer II” to a Chinese collector for $150 million, according to Bloomberg. That slightly later portrait of the charismatic Bloch-Bauer featured a colorful, loosely painted background of exotic textiles similar to “Lady with a Fan.” Scholars relate this ornamentation to the vogue for “Japonisme” influencing European artists at the time.
Tuesday’s record price, higher than any work achieved last month at an underpowered series of auctions in New York, ran counter to recent market trends. Since Britain’s vote in 2016 to leave the European Union, the major auction houses Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips have struggled to attract top-quality works for their sales in the British capital.
Boosted by the presence of the Klimt — and by a Lucian Freud “Night Interior” from 1968-69, which sold for $12.2 million — Sotheby’s two-part, 73-lot evening sale of modern and contemporary art raised $252.9 million. Sotheby’s equivalent evening sale in the summer of 2015, a year before the Brexit vote, grossed about $486 million at the time.
On Wednesday evening, Christie’s will offer 67 lots of 20th- and 21st-century artworks estimated to raise at least $72 million, headlined by the 1896 Paul Signac landscape, “Calanque des Canoubiers (Pointe de Bamer), Saint-Tropez,” valued at $7 million. Christie’s equivalent London sales in 2015 took about $263 million.