Gustav Klimt’s Lady with a Fan Shatters Records at Sotheby’s European Auction

Gustav Klimt’s renowned masterpiece, Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan), made a triumphant return to the market after almost three decades, captivating art enthusiasts at Sotheby’s in London.

The exceptional painting surpassed all expectations, fetching an astonishing £85.3 million / $108.4 million, thereby establishing a groundbreaking auction record for Gustav Klimt and securing its position as the most valuable artwork ever sold at auction in Europe. This extraordinary achievement also ranks as the second-highest price ever paid for a portrait, spanning across all eras.

Shattering Previous Records

A fierce bidding battle lasting ten minutes ensued, with four bidders vying for the illustrious artwork, three of whom were present in the room. Ultimately, the masterpiece found its new home with Patti Wong, the esteemed founder of Patti Wong & Associates, who represented a collector from Hong Kong.

The price attained for Dame mit Fächer eclipsed the £65 million ($104.3 million) achieved in 2010 for Alberto Giacometti’s L’homme qui marche I (Walking Man I), previously sold at Sotheby’s London. Furthermore, it surpassed the previous auction record for Gustav Klimt, which stood at $104.6 million for Birch Forest from the Paul G. Allen Collection, sold in New York the previous year.

Notably, Dame mit Fächer had last appeared on the market nearly thirty years ago at Sotheby’s in New York in 1994, where it secured a then-record-breaking acquisition of $11.6 million (£7.8 million). Today, it reclaims its status as a symbol of artistic brilliance and rarity.

Gustav Klimt's Lady with a Fan Shatters Records at Sotheby's European Auction

Delving into the Painting’s Significance

Dame mit Fächer, preserved on an easel within Gustav Klimt’s studio at the time of his unexpected and untimely passing in February 1918, represents the artist’s final testament to his craft. The painting portrays an unnamed woman with captivating allure, encompassing Klimt’s remarkable technical expertise and boundless creative expression.

As Gustav Klimt painted Dame mit Fächer, his final portrait, he stood at the height of his artistic prowess. This masterpiece marks a departure from the formality of his earlier commissioned works, embracing a newfound expressivity characterized by a deeper immersion in patterns, colours, and forms. Although influenced by contemporaries such as Van Gogh, Matisse, and Gauguin, Klimt’s interpretation brings forth a unique perspective, transcending the influences and becoming a distinct masterpiece in its own right.

Gustav Klimt's Lady with a Fan Shatters Records at Sotheby's European Auction
Dame Mit Fächer On An Easel In Klimt’s Studio, 1918

Unleashing Creative Freedom

While Gustav Klimt enjoyed widespread recognition as one of Europe’s most celebrated portraitists by 1917, the creation of Lady with a Fan differed significantly from his commissioned works. It represented a rare instance where he indulged solely in his own artistic interests.

Bursting with freedom and spontaneity, the painting showcases Klimt’s joy in the act of creation and his celebration of beauty in its purest form. Additionally, it showcases his innovative approach, as he deviates from the traditional portrait format and returns to the square format employed in his avant-garde landscapes from earlier in the century, imparting a distinctive and “modern” touch to this captivating piece.

“The beauty and sensuality of the portrait lies in the detail: the flecks of blue and pink which enliven the sitter’s skin, the feathery lines of her eyelashes and the pursed lips that give her face character. Klimt here gave himself full freedom to capture on canvas a devastatingly beautiful woman. Her provocatively bared shoulder, poise and quiet self-assurance combine to stunning effect.” – Thomas Boyd Bowman, Head Of Impressionist And Modern Art Evening Sales, Sotheby’s London

A Fusion of Cultures

Klimt’s deep fascination with Chinese and Japanese art and culture finds full expression in Dame mit Fächer. He incorporated captivating Chinese motifs, including the phoenix symbolizing immortality, rebirth, good fortune, and fidelity, as well as lotus blossoms representing love, happy marriage, and purity.

Furthermore, the flattened background and skilful interplay of patterns reveal Klimt’s profound interest in Japanese woodblock prints.

As the final brushstrokes of Dame mit Fächer grace the canvas, Gustav Klimt leaves behind an indelible legacy, solidifying his position as one of the most revered artists in history.

This extraordinary auction achievement cements the artwork’s status as an invaluable treasure and a testament to the enduring power of artistic expression.

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