Until a few decades ago, Gustav Klimt was relatively ignored by the art establishment. Now his paintings are among the most expensive ever sold. How did the Viennese painter’s prices rise so high so fast?
by Eileen Kinsella
When Ronald Lauder, the cosmetics heir, art collector, Neue Galerie cofounder, and chairman emeritus of the Museum of Modern Art, shelled out a reported $135 million for Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) last June, many observers were shocked not only by the amount paid—one of the highest known prices for a single painting to date—but also by the name of the artist it was paid for.
How, they wondered, did a work by Klimt, who was largely ignored by the art establishment just a few decades ago, suddenly vault more than four times to a previous auction record of $29.1 million? How did he surpass even Picasso, whose $104.2 million Blue Period Boy with a Pipe (1905)—still a much discussed market milestone two years after the fact—officially holds the slot for the most expensive painting sold at public auction?