Klimt’s ‘Lady with a Fan’ Becomes the Priciest Painting Ever Auctioned in Europe

The high price reflects the relative rarity of Klimt portraits outside of museums.

Austrian artist Gustav Klimt’s last portrait started breaking auction records before it even sold. On June 14, Sotheby’s announced that Dame mit Fächer—known in English-speaking nations as Lady with a Fan—was expected to sell for about $80 million.

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Square portrait of woman holding fan with Asian inspired background
‘Lady with a Fan’ at Sotheby’s. Sotheby's

“Not only is the painting the most valuable ever to have been offered at auction in Europe, but it also now joins the ranks of the most valuable portraits—of any era—ever to have come to auction,” the auction house said in a presale statement.

Today (June 27), Lady with a Fan went on the block in London and was won on behalf of a collector by Hong Kong-based art advisor Patti Wong (former chair of Sotheby’s Asia) for $108.4 million with fees after ten minutes of competition, as reported by the New York Times. The portrait, which is one of the few remaining Klimt works not hanging in a museum, last sold in 1994 for just $11.6 million.

Lady with a Fan is now the most expensive piece of art ever auctioned or put up for public sale in Europe, overtaking Claude Monet’s Le basin aux nymphéas, which sold for $80.4 million in a 2008 Christie’s auction, and Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man I, which sold for $104.3 million.

The sale also marks a new auction record for works by Klimt. The previous record for an auction sale of Klimt’s work was $104.6 million for Birch Forest, which went to the block at Christie’s as part of a sale of the late billionaire Paul Allen’s art collection. The high price of this and other works by the artist reflects the relative rarity of Klimt portraits outside of museums. Notable private Klimt owners have included cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder and Oprah Winfrey.

Initially owned by Viennese industrialist and Klimt compatriot Erwin Böhler, Lady with a Fan was acquired by art collector Rudolf Leopold in the 1960s before it was purchased by a collector whose identity was never released by Sotheby’s.

Square portrait of woman holding fan with Asian inspired background
A closer view of ‘Lady with a Fan’. Sotheby's

The striking portrait, found on an easel in Klimt’s studio at the time of his death, features an unnamed woman gazing into the distance while holding a folding fan, posed in front of a backdrop of lotus blossoms and colorful birds.

Stylistically, it is unusual in its departure from Klimt’s earlier art nouveau leanings. It’s “something completely different—a technical tour de force, full of boundary-pushing experimentation, as well as a heartfelt ode to absolute beauty,” said Helena Newman, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, in a presale statement.

Klimt’s ‘Lady with a Fan’ Becomes the Priciest Painting Ever Auctioned in Europe