One of Klimt’s greatest portraits to be offered at Sotheby’s London

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Bildnis Gertrud Loew (detail) by Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt’s portrait Bildnis Gertrud Loew of 1902 will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s London in its 24th June Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale.

The sale has been arranged following a settlement between the Felsöványi family and The Gustav Klimt | Wien 1900-Privatstiftung (Klimt Foundation).

The painting (est. £12-18 million / $18.5-27.7 million / €16.8-25.3 million) depicts the ethereal figure of Gertrud Loew, later known by her married name Gertha Felsöványi, a member of fin-de-siècle Viennese society, wreathed in diaphanous folds of gossamer fabric.

Helena Newman, Sotheby’s co-head of Impressionist & Modern Art Worldwide said: “Gustav Klimt’s exquisite and ingenious representations of women have led him to become the most celebrated painter of the female portrait of the early 20th Century. Bildnis Gertrud Loew, from a crucial period in the artist’s career, is one of his finest portraits to appear at auction in over twenty years.”

Gertrud Felsöványi’s granddaughter, commenting on behalf of the family heirs, said: “This portrait portrays the brave and determined nature of my grandmother. Her strength of character and beauty lives on in this visual embodiment. My father, Anthony Felsöványi, last saw this painting in June 1938 when he left the family home for the last time to depart for America. At that time my grandmother had been advised to leave her family home to live in a less grand home to try to avoid the attention of the Nazis, given her Jewish ancestry.”

Eventually, under duress, her grandmother left Vienna altogether in 1939 to join her son in America, having left all of her belongings behind – including the painting.

“Her home had been taken over as a Nazi headquarters and she had left her valuable belongings with friends and acquaintances. After the war, she never returned to Vienna. Only my father’s sister did, with the hope of retrieving some of their belongings, but to no avail. My father said that my grandmother never again mentioned the painting or the valuable belongings she had left behind.

“My father recalled that throughout his childhood the painting was displayed in the entrance hall of their family home. It was displayed prominently on a stand rather than hung on the wall, and faced out to the gardens. After he had left Vienna, my father hung a reproduction of the Klimt portrait of his mother in his home in America.”

When Gertrud’s daughter, Maria, returned to Vienna after the war to reclaim her family’s property she discovered that it had all been sold by her mother’s friend – herself under duress by persecution – and the Felsöványi family was not able to retrieve a single work of art.

Untraceable by the Felsöványi family, Bildnis Gertrud Loew had been acquired by Gustav Ucicky, one of Gustav Klimt’s sons by Maria Ucicka who had modelled for the artist. Gustav Ucicky was a film director who rose to prominence during the Weimar Republic. He acquired a considerable number of works by his father, which he left to his wife Ursula after his death in 1961.

In 2013 Ursula Ucicky established Gustav Klimt | Wien 1900-Privatstiftung which houses this collection of works and is also a non-profit cultural, art historical, scientific and educational centre.

In addition to aiming to preserve and research the life and oeuvre of Gustav Klimt, Ursula Ucicky wished to research the history of the acquisition of the artworks in the collection, enlisting notable provenance experts to carry out the research. Following extensive research, a settlement between the Felsöványi family and the Klimt Foundation was reached under the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art and an agreement that Bildnis Gertrud Loew will be offered for sale.

Commenting on the sale, Peter Weinhäupl, Chair of the Board of Directors of The Gustav Klimt | Wien 1900-Privatstiftung (Klimt Foundation), said: “Mrs Ucicky and the Klimt Foundation are happy and grateful that a just and fair settlement was reached with the heirs of the Felsöványi family on the basis of the Washington Conference Principles and in accordance with our Foundation’s charter.”

Newman added that her father would have been pleased by the settlement that has led to the sale of the painting.

“While sadly my father is no longer alive, having died two years ago aged ninety-eight, this settlement would have meant a great deal to him, as it does to me and the other family heirs with whom this settlement has been agreed.

“Before his death my father had wanted to thank Mrs Ucicky for her longstanding desire to work towards this settlement, and our family wishes to thank her as well as the researchers and others involved in bringing about this resolution.”