In its first market appearance in almost thirty years, Gustav Klimt’s final masterpiece, Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan) soared above pre-sale expectations* at Sotheby’s in London this evening, selling for £85.3 million / $108.4 million - establishing a new auction record for Klimt and becoming the most valuable work of art ever sold at auction in Europe. The result also stands as the second highest price for any portrait - of any era - ever sold at auction.
Following a ten-minute bidding battle between four bidders, three of whom were in the room, Dame mit Fächer finally sold to Patti Wong (Founder of Patti Wong & Associates), bidding in the saleroom for a Hong Kong collector.
The price achieved tonight eclipses the $104.3 million (£65 million) achieved for Alberto Giacometti's L'homme qui marche I (Walking Man I), sold here at Sotheby's London in 2010. It also surpasses the previous auction record for Klimt ($104.6 million for Birch Forest from the Paul G. Allen Collection sold last year in New York). Dame mit Fächer was last offered for sale nearly thirty years ago at Sotheby’s in New York in 1994, when it was acquired for $11.6 million (£7.8m) - at the time setting a new auction record for the artist. Tonight, it reclaimed that status.
Still standing on an easel in Gustav Klimt’s studio at the time of the artist’s unexpected and untimely death in February 1918, Dame mit Fächer – a beautiful, rich and alluring portrait of an unnamed woman – brings together all the technical prowess and creative exuberance that define Klimt’s greatest work.
The last portrait Klimt painted, Dame mit Fächer was created when he was still in his artistic prime, and at a moment when the ‘formality’ of his earlier commissioned work gives way to a new expressivity - an ever-deeper, ever-more joyful immersion in pattern, colour and form, which - while clearly influenced by his contemporaries Van Gogh, Matisse and Gauguin – became something entirely different in his hands.
Klimt first started work on Lady with a Fan in 1917, by which time he was among the most celebrated portraitists in Europe: commissions came thick and fast, for which he was able to command prices far higher than any of his contemporaries. But this was a rare work painted entirely in the pursuit of his own interests. Full of freedom and spontaneity, it reflects Klimt’s joy in painting it and in celebrating beauty in its purest form. It also reveals his innovative approach. Traditionally, portraits were – and still are – painted in the eponymous ‘portrait (or vertical) form’. Here, Klimt returns to the square format that he used for his avant-garde landscapes earlier in the century, giving this painting a uniquely ‘modern’ edge.
Klimt also gives full expression to his complete fascination with Chinese and Japanese art and culture. Luscious, silken kimonos and Chinese robes are known to have been his dresswear of choice, and his home abounded with beautiful objects from the East. Egon Schiele, a regular visitor, describes it like this: ‘the sitting room, [was] furnished with a square table in the middle and a large number of Japanese prints covering the walls... and from there into another room whose wall was entirely covered by a huge wardrobe, which held his marvelous collection of Chinese and Japanese robes.’
In Dame mit Fächer, Klimt draws principally on Chinese motifs: the phoenix (symbol of immortality and rebirth, good fortune and fidelity) and lotus blossoms (symbols of love, happy marriage and/or purity). Meanwhile, his flattening of the background and juxtaposition of patterns reflects his deep interest in Japanese woodblock prints.
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