Insel im Attersee: Gustav Klimt’s Landmark Painting to Auction at Sotheby’s

One of Gustav Klimt‘s most evocative landscapes, Insel im Attersee, is set to make its debut at Sotheby’s Modern Evening Auction on May 16th.

Painted between 1901 and 1902, Insel im Attersee was created during Klimt’s summer vacations at Attersee, where he discovered a new and radical approach to the landscape genre, which allowed him greater artistic freedom.

Sotheby’s estimates that the painting could achieve around $45 million, making it one of the most significant and rarest landscapes by Klimt to be offered at auction, and the only one of its subject remaining in private hands.

Insel im Attersee: Gustav Klimt's Landmark Painting to Auction at Sotheby's
“Painted just after the turn of the century, Insel im Attersee is an important addition to Klimt’s famed oeuvre, providing a critical link to his celebrated Golden Period, and created while the artist was defining his signature, mature style. Landscapes were a continuous source of artistic inspiration for Klimt, his bucolic summers at Attersee were the ideal catalyst for his experiments with light and color. Klimt returned each year to explore new modes of expression, which are perfectly captured in the present work.” HELENA NEWMAN, SOTHEBY’S CHAIRMAN, EUROPE, AND W ORLDWIDE HEAD OF IMPRESSIONIST AND MODERN AR T

The Significance of Insel im Attersee

Insel im Attersee was once part of the collection of art historian and gallerist Otto Kallir, who played a critical role in cementing Klimt’s global reputation by showcasing his work in the United States.

After escaping Austria in 1938 due to Nazi persecution, Kallir ultimately emigrated to America and opened the Galerie St. Etienne in New York. Insel im Attersee was one of the first works showcased at the gallery, and so it was the first introduction to Klimt for many Americans.

Gustav Klimt at Attersee

Gustav Klimt began to travel to the Salzkammergut region of Austria for the summer months in 1900, painting the lush scenery and iridescent waters of Attersee en plein air.

Klimt enjoyed artistic freedom unrestrained by the confines of his commissioned works, and his early Attersee paintings epitomized his new form of expression and approach to composition. Insel im Attersee, with its distinctive “cropping” of the scene, the high horizon, and the flattening of the surface, is perhaps the most radical and striking example from the group.

Insel im Attersee: Gustav Klimt's Landmark Painting to Auction at Sotheby's
Emilie Flöge and Gustav Klimt in a rowing boat on Attersee, about 1909/10

The Unique Composition of Insel im Attersee

With the water’s surface making up the majority of the composition, Klimt focuses his attention on the interplay of light and colour, building layers of textures in glistening blues, yellows, and greens.

Rather than providing a naturalistic portrayal of the reflection on the water, Klimt fully immerses the viewer into the kaleidoscopic effect of the water, which is only further enhanced by the unique composition of the landscape.

This approach is thought to be influenced by the artist’s experiments with photography, a tool he explored over the next decade and which would become crucial to his artistic practice.

The Legacy of Gustav Klimt and the Galerie St. Etienne

Insel im Attersee played a critical role in Klimt’s global reputation and the establishment of the Galerie St. Etienne. After Kallir’s forced exile from Austria, he opened the Galerie St. Etienne in Paris, named in tribute to St. Stephen’s Cathedral that had cast its shadow over his gallery in Vienna.

Klimt’s work, including Insel im Attersee, was showcased in the gallery, helping to build the reputations of the Austrian Modernists in the US, at a time when they were unknown outside Europe.

In conclusion, Gustav Klimt’sInsel im Attersee” is not only a beautiful and significant work of art, but it also holds a fascinating history.

From Klimt’s summers at Attersee, to its role in cementing Klimt’s global reputation, to its journey through the collection of art historian and gallerist Otto Kallir, and ultimately to its upcoming auction at Sotheby’s, this painting has a rich and complex story.

Insel im Attersee: Gustav Klimt's Landmark Painting to Auction at Sotheby's
Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge at the boat house in Litzlberg at Attersee, with the island in the background, 1906.

Its unique composition, use of colour and light, and influence from various art movements and cultures make it a masterpiece that is truly one-of-a-kind. The fact that it has never before been offered at auction only adds to its allure, and it will undoubtedly be a highly sought-after piece.

Overall, “Insel im Attersee” is a stunning and important work of art that continues to captivate and inspire art lovers and collectors around the world.

Images: Sotheby’s

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