It’s a big week for fans of Viennese symbolist painter Gustav Klimt!
On Wednesday, Bloomberg’s Katya Kazakina revealed that Oprah Winfrey had parted with Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912) for $150 million, in a private deal brokered by Larry Gagosian that sent the masterwork to a Chinese collector. The media titan had purchased the work at Christie’s in New York in November 2006 for $87.9 million, an auction record for the artist then and still now.
Now, another Klimt work is coming to the auction block, this time at Sotheby’s in London, and there’s a chance it could eclipse that record. Bauerngarten (1907) will lead the auction house’s Impressionist and modern art evening sale on March 1, with an on-request estimate that puts the work’s value in excess of $45 million.
Klimt’s landscape work isn’t as iconic as his two portraits of Adele Bloch-Bauer—the other was purchased by collector Ronald Lauder in 2015 for $135 million, making it the most expensive private art transaction of all time at that point. (Both Bloch-Bauer portraits are currently on view at Lauder’s Neue Galerie in New York, and will stay up through September 2017.) And his landscapes aren’t as well known as his work that makes use of gold leaf.
But it’s not often that any major work by the leader of the Vienna Succession comes to auction.
“As you probably know, paintings by Klimt appear very rarely,” Helena Newman, global co-head of the Impressionist and modern art at Sotheby’s, said on a phone call from London. “He’s one of those artists who sits really at the top tier of 20th-century masters. And this painting came from the same period as the Bloch-Bauer, right at the heart of his most important period.”
And while it has none of that famous Klimt gold, Bauerngarten does possess what Newman calls “this symphony of chromatic color,” a quality that intimates the glitter.
“It catches the jewel-like treatment of the painting,” she said. “In his landscapes, he creates that shimmering effect with the oil paint.”
The work was first exhibited at the Kunstschau in Vienna a year after it was completed, and then sold to the National Gallery in Prague two years later. The institution deaccessioned it in 1968, and then it appeared on the block in 1994, when the current consignor acquired it at Christie’s in London for $5.8 million. Sotheby’s came to the much higher figure of $45 million for its estimate based on the previous sales of Klimt landscapes, Newman said.
As for the recent sale of Winfrey’s Klimt, Newman said it’s a happy coincidence that the news broke just before Sotheby’s unveiled its star consignment.
“It’s interesting timing,” Newman said. “What it’s reflecting is the enduring and continuing appetite for Klimt. He does sit there with the titans—van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne, Modigliani.”
The London sales begin February 28 with the Impressionist and modern art evening Ssle at Christie’s, which includes works such as Paul Gauguin’s Te Fare (La maison) (1892), which is estimated to sell for $12 million to $18 million.