As recently reported by Artnet, there has been quite a bit of speculation surrounding the buyer’s identity of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt’s painting entitled Portrait of Gertrud Loew-Felsövanyi (1902) sold at Sotheby’s London back in June for $39 million. Recent credible reports confirm that the buyer is British billionaire businessman Joe Lewis, who came into his fortune by way of foreign exchange market (forex) trading in the early 1990s. Lewis’ art collection is estimated to be worth around $1 billion and includes works by Picasso, Matisse, Lucian Freud, sculptor Henry Moore, and, of course, Klimt. Lewis is known to have a preference for Austrian modernism.
According to Artnet, the provenance of the Nazi-looted Klimt painting was determined just recently before the Sotheby’s London auction in which the painting was returned to the subject’s granddaughter. Shortly thereafter, it was decided by the Felsövanyi family along with the Klimt Foundation to consign the artwork to Sotheby’s and share the profits.
The recent sale of the Klimt artwork has reignited a long debate back in Austria as critics of current restitution practices expressed their concern that “restituted masterpieces all too often disappear from public view as they go to private hands.” Artnet notes that because public institutions are unable to raise the necessary funds to acquire expensive important artworks, these masterpieces often tend to find their way into either freeports or the art collections of the very affluent.
The painting will be on loan to the Neue Galerie in New York for an exhibition scheduled for next year entitled Women of Vienna’s Golden Age 1900-1918, which will run from September 2016 to January 2017. The Neue Galerie is a museum dedicated to early twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design.
Although the Klimt painting will be on display for a short time in New York later next year, the Austrian media predicts that the chances of it becoming permanently publicly accessible are “slim.”