A painting by Gustav Klimt that once belonged to an art collector credited with popularising the artist and other Austrian Modernists in the United States is estimated to sell for around $45m when it makes its debut at auction next month at Sotheby’s New York.
Klimt painted Insel im Attersee (1901-02) in the Salzkammergut region of Austria, and focused most of the landscape’s composition on the water of Attersee, a lake the artist often visited with friends in summer. Klimt’s use of colours, light and texture to create a kaleidoscopic effect on the water's surface shows a critical link to the artist’s so-called “Golden Period” when he created many of his best-known works, according to Sotheby’s.
The painting once belonged to art historian and collector Otto Kallir, who helped draw the world’s attention to artists like Klimt and other Austrian Modernists after the Second World War. After escaping Austria in 1938 after the Nazis invaded the country, Kallir moved to the US, where he opened the Galerie St. Etienne in New York. It was there that Kallir put on Klimt’s first US solo exhibition in 1959, and Insel im Attersee was one of Klimt’s first paintings shown at the space in 1940, according to Sotheby’s. Only one other version of the painting exists, and is held in the collection at the Leopold Museum in Vienna.
Though the American public didn’t immediately embrace artists like Klimt and Egon Schiele, today Klimt’s work is widely popular, including at museums and at auction. Last year his painting Birch Forest (1903) set a new record when it sold for $104.5m (with fees) during the sale of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s art collection at Christie's New York.
Kallier also helped place Klimt’s work into major US institutions: in 1957, Kallir provided the Museum of Modern Art in New York with its first work by the artist, The Park (1910), and also donated Pear Tree (1903) to the Fogg Museum at Harvard University in 1956.
The Galerie St. Etienne closed its commercial space in 2021, and the gallery’s archives are now run by the nonprofit Kallir Research Institute, led by Kallier’s granddaughter, Jane Kallir. In 2002, on behalf of the owner, Jane pulled the loan of Insel im Attersee from an exhibition at the Oesterreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna after the museum refused to lend other Klimt paintings to a museum in Massachusetts over fears the paintings could be seized by US authorities. At the time, a court in Los Angeles had agreed to hear arguments for the restitution of Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1903-07), which was stolen by Nazis and ended up within the collection of the Vienna museum (the court later ordered the painting to be restituted to the heirs of the portrait’s sitter).
Insel im Attersee, which will be part of Sotheby’s Modern evening sale on 16 May, is among the most valuable works heading to auction next month in New York. Two paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat are estimated to sell for $45m at Christie’s and $30m at Sotheby’s, respectively, and Ed Ruscha’s Burning Standard is estimated to fetch between $20m and $30m at Christie’s, and Portrait of a Man as the God Mars (around 1620) by Peter Paul Rubens could sell for as much as $30m at Sotheby’s.