Klimt's 'Lady with a Fan' sells for over $100 million

The Sotheby's auction for Gustav Klimt's final completed work sparked a 10-minute bidding war that far exceeded its initial $80 million price tag

Bidding on the masterpiece far exceeded Sotheby's price estimate of $80 million (Photo: DW)
Bidding on the masterpiece far exceeded Sotheby's price estimate of $80 million (Photo: DW)


The last portrait Austrian artist Gustav Klimt painted before he died was sold at auction on Tuesday, fetching over $108 million (€98.5 million), according to Sotheby's auction house.

Bidding on the masterpiece far exceeded Sotheby's price estimate of $80 million.

Klimt's untimely death at the age of 55, brought on by the influenza pandemic of 1918, meant that several of his works remained unfinished. The last one he did manage to complete, however, has become a collector's item.

"Dame mit Fächer" ("Lady with a Fan"), a painting of an unnamed woman, was still on an easel in Klimt's studio when the artist succumbed to a stroke and pneumonia.

Picasso and Monet pieces also for sale

The prized item went under the hammer at Sotheby's Modern & Contemporary Evening Auction in London on Tuesday. Other artworks for sale the same evening included pieces by Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet, but both were dwarfed in price by Klimt's portrait.

Even before the hammer fell, the estimated price tag made the work "the most valuable ever to have been offered at auction in Europe," according to Sotheby's.

unOther Klimt works have sold for more, however, including his 1907 painting, "Water Serpents II," which reportedly went for $170 million in 2015 in a private sale.

"It shows Klimt at the very height of his creative prowess, drawing on imagery from Asia, of which he was obsessed," Helena Newman, chairman of Sotheby's Europe and worldwide head of impressionist and modern art, told the news agency Reuters.

Newman highlighted depictions of a phoenix, lotus flower and other elements in the painting, adding: "It's very rare for a Klimt painting of this quality and caliber of a portrait of a woman to come to auction."

The Sotheby's website is no less effusive about Klimt and his work.

"Gustav Klimt’s beguiling representations of women have made him the most celebrated painter of the female portrait in the early twentieth century. Klimt’s women constitute the most important group of works in his oeuvre and are among the truly iconic images of Modern Art."

Last offered for sale in 1994, the painting is one of a small number of Klimt's portraits in private collections, according to Sotheby's.

Controversy and University of Vienna fallout

Klimt's primary subject was the female body, however his portrayal of beauty and eroticism has not been without controversy. The paintings he completed around 1900 for the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna were criticized for being pornographic.

University officials took offence at the amount of naked skin on show in Klimt's works, leading him to eventually withdraw from the project entirely.

Klimt never accepted public contracts again, and insisted on only painting for private clients.

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