The Most Expensive Gustav Klimt Paintings Sold at Auction

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June 29, 2016

Gustav Klimt paintings tell the truth, the truth about life, the truth about beauty, the truth about love. The Austrian symbolist painter was one of the foremost members of the Vienna Secession movement, famous for his paintings, sketches, murals, and other works of art. His main subject was the female body, and his works are often marked by the honest eroticism. Another truth of Klimt’s art. The famous artist also painted landscapes, influenced by the Japanese art. Following the development of his personal artistic style, his works became more controversial and even considered pornographic by the political, religious, and aesthetic quarters of the public. Regardless of that, he did achieve the “golden phase” of his creation, with the artwork that included gold leaf. The use of gold leaf can be traced back to Pallas Athene from 1989 and Judith I from 1901, however, the most popular artworks from his golden phase are the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907-1908).

“Truth is like fire; to tell the truth means to glow and burn” – Gustav Klimt

Much like other famous artists, Klimt was misunderstood during his time but still managed to become one of the most influential and most known artists today. The artist born in 1862 was the advocator of Art Nouveau and forever remembered as one of the foremost decorative painters of the 20th century. The artist from Vienna believed in the equality of decorative and fine art, attempting to create a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), a perfect union of the visual arts that can be made through ornament. His work in the dining room of the Palais Stoclet, the home of a rich Belgian industrialist, Fulfillment and Expectation, were the finest of his decorative work and the artist himself stated that they were "probably the ultimate stage of my development of ornament."

The Austrian artist liked to keep to himself. However, in a rare writing entitled Commentary on a non-existent self-portrait he says:

"I have never painted a self-portrait. I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women...There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night...Whoever wants to know something about me... ought to look carefully at my pictures."

His life was a work of art in its nature. He was the true master that deserves all the respect his name carries along with it. Gustav Klimt died on February 6th, 1918, leaving behind an immense legacy and sadly, a number of unfinished paintings. Gustav Klimt paintings have been sold for some of the highest prices in auctions, and in the honor of the great artist that Klimt was, today we are bringing you the top ten priciest works by the master of art.

Editors’ Tip: Tobias Natter – Gustav Klimt: Complete Paintings

Gustav Klimt paintings tell the story of the controversial artist whose works divided and polarized the world of art. The painter who embodied the tradition and advocated the Modernism until his death, influenced the generations upon generations of creative spirits who found their inspiration in his paintings. His legacy lives on, and will continue to do so in the centuries to come, so for all the lovers of Gustav Klimt paintings, this monograph is the perfect material. It explores his oeuvre extensively, and includes a complete catalog of his works, as well as the new photographs of the Stoclet Frieze which were exclusively commissioned for the production of this book. Natter’s monograph investigates Klimt’s subject choices, whether women or landscapes, and also offers 179 letters, writings, cards, and various other documents from the famous artist.

Schloss Kammer am Attersee II (1909)

The landscape entitled Schloss Kammer am Attersee II, executed in 1909, belongs to the series of five Gustav Klimt paintings depicting the Schloss Kammer on the lake Attersee, from 1908 to 1912. The area was an exclusive resort for the Viennese high society, where Klimt himself went to relax and get away from the sweltering heat of the city. The artist is known for his landscape paintings, the majority of which were executed in a square format and a high horizontal line, or lack of one altogether, and this one is one of his finest. It proves that Klimt was, according to Partsch "one of the most significant landscape painters of his time.”

This piece was sold at Christie’s London in 1997 for $21,447,400. Click here to see more information about the painting and the auction.

Frauenbildnis (Portrait of Ria Munk III) (1918)

A great number of Gustav Klimt paintings were the full-length standing portraits of women. The famous Viennese artist was recognized as one of the finest portrait painters of women that ever lived, and in these colorful, more joyous portraits he extended the Oriental vibe of his earlier “golden portraits” inspired by the Byzantine art. The artist from Vienna created a new woman, a strong woman, an elegant woman. He incorporated a more dramatic play between decoration, abstraction, and figuration, he took the time to complete these large, fascinating paintings and found a way to make his female subjects become immortalized in an abstractly decorative parade of floral and oriental form and color. The woman depicted in Frauenbildnis (Portrait of a Lady) is probably the last of the fantastic portraits that Klimt painted, and it belongs to the series of very important nearly-finished paintings that were left in the studio of the great artist, and now they offer an amazing insight into the richness and complexity of Gustav Klimt paintings.

This painting was sold at Christie’s London in 2010 for $28,132,310. Find out more here.

Landhaus am Attersee (1914)

Landhaus am Attersee is one of Gustav Klimt paintings painted in circa 1914, and it is one of Klimt's masterpiece landscapes that evokes his fascination with the Attersee. As mentioned earlier, the Austrian creator of the famous piece The Kiss and his muse Emilie Flöge spent the summers in Villa Oleander in Kammerl, close to Kammer am Attersee, quite far from Vienna. However, since the house was not available in the years that followed, Klimt spent his summer months in Weissenbach, and the house where he stayed is the one he chose to depict in this piece, and in Forsthaus in Weissenbach am Attersee. Gustav Klimt used the highlights of orange-yellows and reds to create an effect of flattening out of the landscape. This painting was probably inspired by the folk tapestry and stained glass techniques and is nothing short of museum worthy.

The piece was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2003 for $29,128,000. Click here for more details.

Houses at Unterach on the Attersee (1916)

One of the most beautiful Gustav Klimt paintings, Houses at Unterach on the Attersee, painted in 1916, was created for the enjoyment of the viewers who are presented with the sheer beauty of the tightly framed depiction of the village when looking at this piece. Looking at it, you can almost imagine a Beethoven piece playing softly in the background, while the Vienna Secession star stains his canvas, writing a new page in the book of life and death. The village is bereft of people, with no evidence of life, no curtains or flowers, as if the abandoned settlement has come to terms with its eternal solitude, with the key focus on the shapes and forms that comprise the tight frame. In this piece, Klimt's Pointillist style has given way to a more flat structure, to the solid lines, to the heavy rimming, to the free rhythm of the brushstroke that simultaneously enhances and defines the color blocks. The bright orange-red house is a focal point of the painting, that contrasts the green environment that surrounds it.

The piece was sold in 2006 at Christie’s New York for $28,000,000. Find out more here.

Apple Tree I (1912)

Apple Tree I is colorful, rich with bold red of the apples, and full of colorful flowers that cover the ground below the tree. It is filled with life, happiness, fertility, with the plentiful personality of Mother Nature. The advocator of Art Nouveau from Vienna, the Beethoven of visual arts, painted a picture that focuses on the tree that dominates the canvas, and only the slight hint of the sky above appears at the upper corner, barely making contact with the abundance below. The bottom of the artwork is filled with the bloom and grass, that serve to accentuate the apple tree, exploding like a firework from it in the bold brushstrokes. Each apple and every flower are executed to the minute detail, almost to the point of photographic accuracy, perfectly representing the fine line of contact between life and death, abundance and scarcity, the ages that Mother Nature needs in order to create something so beautiful and pure, more than worthy of the most prestigious museum spaces in the world.

Apple Tree I was sold at Christie’s New York in 2006 for $29,500,000. Click here to see more details.

Bildnis Gertrud Loew (Gertha Felsovanyi) (Portrait of Gertrud Loew - Gertha Felsovanyi) (1902)

Gustav Klimt was the master of depicting women, which made him one of the most celebrated painters of the female portrait of the 20th century. Bildnis Gertrud Loew is an exceptionally beautiful work, painted in the crucial period in the career of the famous creator from Vienna. The subject’s delicate features are depicted in a dreamy expression, she resonates gentleness, with the light glowing from her eyes. The vertically inclined composition, bereft of all unnecessary details, is one of Klimt’s most known paintings. A part of the girl’s shawl is cut off by the edge of the painting, which elongates her figure and reduces the distance from the viewer.

This amazing piece was sold at Sotheby’s London in 2015 for $39,050,112. Find out more about the painting and the auction here.

Litzlberg Am Attersee (1915)

Although it is considered that this artwork was created in 1915, recent findings by Alfred Weidinger, Michaela Seiser, and Eva Winkler reveal that the artist probably painted Litzlberg am Attersee in the second half of 1914. It is believed that the format he used was based on a postcard of the lake Attersee which Klimt had sent to his nephew in August of 1914. The postcard and the painting both depict a narrow strip of water and the houses on the lake, set against the forest-covered hillside, with the sky visible only at the top right of the canvas. Klimt used the cool blue and green tones, interrupted by the bright orange he used for the roofs. He employed strong outlines and geometric shapes as well.

The piece was sold in 2011 at Sotheby’s New York for $40,402,500. If you want to know more about the piece and the auction, click here.

Birch Forest (1903)

Birch Forest was executed in 1903 and filled with mystery and stillness that make Gustav Klimt paintings so captivating for the viewers and appreciators of his works. This astounding piece invites the viewer to immerse in the magical world with no sky, and no daylight. It offers the sense of near-suffocation created by the trees. As with almost all of Gustav Klimt landscapes, this one is also bereft of the presence of people and animals, bereft of any movement or passing of time. In Birch Forest, time does not exist, the clocks have stopped, nature has paused, allowing the viewers to take a glimpse into the woodland and to experience the spiritual fullness the artist himself was a witness of.

Birch Forest was sold in 2006 at Christie’s New York for over $40 million! Find out more about the auction and the piece here.

Kirche In Cassone (Landschaft Mit Zypressen) (Church In Cassone – Landscape With Cypresses) (1913)

Kirche in Cassone, executed in 1913, is one of the finest examples of Gustav Klimt paintings. The landscape combines the rich trees with the houses that cascade down to the lake. The painting is the union of the architecture and nature, that comprises the harmonious composition, creating the dynamic surface, shimmering in the daylight. The painting depicts the Cassone village on Lake Garda in Italy, and it was executed during the artist’s visit to the region in 1913. Klimt stayed here with Emilie Flöge and her family, and during this time he completed three paintings. However, Kirche in Cassone is the last remaining Klimt painting that depicts the Lake Garda and the surrounding architecture.

This painting was sold at Sotheby’s London in 2010 for $42,966,320. Find out more here.

Bauerngarten (Blumengarten), 1907

Painted during the golden period of Klimt's career, Bauerngarten is regarded as a masterpiece of Viennese fin-de-siècle art. While rooted in the natural world, this remarkable landscape is at once symbolic, reaching towards the decorative avant-garde. Inspired by the rustic garden of the Myr-Hof Klimt in Litzlberg, the work is characterized by a synthesis of natural beauty and harmonious regularity, as well as the unconventional composition. After it was first exhibited in Vienna in 1908 Kunstschau, Klimt was declared a master landscape painter by the critics.

The work was sold on March 1st, 2017 at Sotheby's London during their Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale for $52,877,225. More data on the work here.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912)

Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of the wealthy industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, who was also the big supporter of Klimt’s art, was the only model painted by the famous artist twice. She was also depicted in the well-known Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. The portrait was hung in the Bloch-Bauer family home until it was seized by the Nazis in the World War II. The painting was returned to the niece of Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, Maria Altmann in January of 2006, after the court battle in Austria and the United States. The piece is currently at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on a special long-term loan.

The highest hammer price this painting reached is $78,500,000, and it was sold at Christie’s New York in 2006. Click here to find out more about the auction and the painting.

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