Sotheby's Evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art last night started off the autumn season with several works from leading museums around the world with a special highlight from Gustav Klimt bringing $40.4m.
The landscape Litzlberg am Attersee is a lush, shimmering and mesmeric work. The sumptuous palette and the jewel-like surface evidence Klimt's poetic opulence at its most magnificent and evoke the decorative tendency displayed in earlier landscapes.
The scene rises like a vertical wall of natural splendour and man-made artefact in the grand square (43.5in x 43.5in) painting.
Klimt builds up his vision of the town through a bold mosaic of tessellated colours, the cool blue and green tones punctuated by the bright orange of the roofs. As in many of his later works, here Klimt used strong outlines and geometric shapes, under the influence of Schiele's townscapes of Krumau.
The effect is one of a flattening-out of the landscape, creating a richly textured surface that nevertheless retains great depth in its subtle modulation of colour.
The houses are depicted frontally, and appear to be stacked on top of each other, rising in a dramatic, vertiginous perspective. In this surface patterning, Klimt's Litzlberg am Attersee is perhaps inspired by the folk tapestry and stained glass window techniques in which German and Austrian artists took a keen interest in the first decades of the twentieth century.
This work once formed part of one of the most important early collections of Klimt's work, that of the Austro-Hungarian iron magnate and collector Viktor Zuckerkandl. Zuckerkandl and his wife Paula died without leaving any heirs and so much of his collection was distributed through his family.
Litzlberg am Attersee was owned by Amalie Redlich (Zuckerkandl's sister) from 1928, but a decade later she appears to have met a miserable end, dispatched to the Polish city of Lodz in 1938 by the Nazis and never heard from again.
The Gestapo confiscated the painting, and it only recently resurfaced in the collection of a New Yorker who had brought it in good faith. They ceded it to Amalie Redlich's descendants.
Sotheby's were tight-lipped about the estimate for the painting ahead of the sale, but as they had set a world record for a Klimt landscape with Kirche in Casson in 2010 at $43.2m, it seems unlikely that another sale beating the $40m mark was too much of a disappointment.
Collectors keen to get close to great Impressionist artists such as Klimt are generally faced with enormous competition for their artworks making it a means of investment for the very few that can afford seven or eight figure prices.
However, they can buy into the lives of these masters by collecting their signatures and letters which whilst valuable are open to far more collectors. We've just sold a letter by Paul Cezanne and are excited to be offering another written by one of the most famous artists in history, Claude Monet, right now. Click the link to find out more.
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