Gustav Klimt’s admirers are haunted by the question of who has become a new owner of the “Portrait of Gertrud Loew (Gertha Felsovanyi)” (1902) that went under the hammer at Sotheby’s London in late June. It was assumed that almost $39 million for the painting were paid by one of the famous fine art owners, the American businessman Ronald Lauder. However, the Austrian daily newspaper “Der Standard” has called another name after its own investigation. According to the publication, the buyer is Joe Lewis – a British billionaire who amassed his capital buying and selling currency on the foreign exchange market in the 1980s and 1990s. On Forbes’ “List of billionaires”, Lewis is listed as the sixth wealthiest person in the UK. His total wealth is estimated at $5.4 billion.
The painting with shining Gertrud Loew recognized even by Klimt’s contemporaries comes from a rare limited edition of 50 lithographs of the artist’s best works. Its history is not so successful, as this masterpiece was confiscated by the Nazis during World War II. The legitimacy of the rights to its possession was confirmed only at the beginning of June 2015, whereby Gertrud Loew’s granddaughter was recognized as the owner. However, for many years, the painting was kept in the Felsovanyi and the Ucicky families, and later in the Klimt Foundation, but eventually, it was decided to sell the work and share the profits. As for the new owner of the portrait, his identity was confirmed by Ernst Ploil, the advisory board member of the Neue Galerie New York. The canvas will be exhibited on loan at the museum as part of the “Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900-1918” exhibition from September 2016 till January 2017. Like Ronald Lauder, whose collection is also exhibited at the Neue Galerie, Lewis prefers Austrian modernism and knows exactly how to buy fine art. In particular, he owns the “Portrait of Ria Munk III” (1918) by Gustav Klimt and “Danae” (1909) by Egon Schiele.
It’s interesting that after the sale, the question of art restitution once again has been raised in Austria, the home country of Klimt. Critics of this process are concerned that the masterpieces too often disappear from the public view falling into the hands of private fine art owners. The case is that public institutions are traditionally not capable of raising enough funds for such an expensive purchase, and therefore artworks are usually bought by more wealthy people.
For today, according to the “Der Standard” report, Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Gertrud Loew” is on the Joe Lewis’ yacht Aviva moored on the River Thames. The bad news is that even if it is presented at the exhibition in New York, chances that the painting will be available to the public all the time are very low. But let’s hope for the best!