Gustav Klimt’s Final Masterpiece Sets European Auction Record at £85.3m in London

Last week we discussed how Gustav Klimt’s ‘Lady With A Fan’ was up for auction due to fetch over £65m.

In a flurry of bids and excitement, the final portrait by renowned artist Gustav Klimt fetched an astounding £85.3m, setting a new European auction record. This record-breaking sale occurred at Sotheby’s Modern and contemporary art evening auction in London.

The captivating masterpiece, Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan) from 1917, completed a year before Klimt’s demise, stole the spotlight at the auction. It single-handedly contributed nearly half of the evening’s total earnings of £190.3m, falling slightly short of the pre-auction estimate of £155.5m to £197.5m. This event ranked as the second highest-earning evening sale for Sotheby’s in London.

Upon its announcement, the news of Lady with a Fan’s consignment became a talking point, given that the estimated price of “over £65m” was the highest for any artwork auctioned in the UK and Europe. A third party had guaranteed the sale with an irrevocable bid, ensuring its actual sale.

The painting shows a woman adjusting her kimono on her shoulder, signalling Klimt’s experimentation and boundary-pushing style. 

Helena Newman, Sotheby’s European Chairman and worldwide head of Impressionist and Modern art, described the painting’s reception among Asian bidders as unsurprising due to its Chinese and Japanese motifs.

The last time Sotheby’s auctioned this painting was nearly three decades ago, in 1994. It was sold for $11.6m as part of Wendell Cherry’s collection of the American entrepreneur and art collector. The same family who purchased it then returned it to the auction block. The reasons behind their decision remain undisclosed.

The evening’s event also showcased a special 24-lot sub-auction named Face to Face, celebrating portraits from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. This theme complemented the recent reopening of London’s National Portrait Gallery. However, the evening’s crowning glory undoubtedly remained Klimt’s Dame mit Fächer, which set the art world abuzz.

Despite the spectacular sale of the Klimt, the auction endured a series of slumps. Numerous artworks hammered below their low estimates, and a handful of paintings by renowned artists failed to find buyers. However, according to Newman, the night’s outcome reiterated the robust state-of-the-art market, despite an imperfect sell-through rate.

The Now sale preceded the main auction, featuring works from this century by upcoming market favourites and established artists. This section saw new auction records set for critically acclaimed artists Arthur Jafa and Michel Majerus. However, even in this segment, a cooling of the previously heated market was evident. Yet, as per Sotheby’s spokesperson, there has been consistent buying interest for high-value contemporary art pieces in the last five years.