The Collections of Viktor Zuckerkandl

Gustav Klimt was recognised as a great artist of the Vienna Secession movement by 1894, when he was commissioned to paint three ceiling paintings for the Great Hall of the University of Vienna for their faculties of Philosophy, Jurisprudence and Medicine.

Unfortunately, the public reaction to the works was at best mixed. Klimt had painted a modern, Secessionist, symbolic picture rather than a historical allegory and there were fierce protests.

The row became so toxic (the works being described as 'pornographic') that Klimt decided he would only work through private relationships with patrons and collectors. One of his most important relationships was with the Zuckerkandl family.

Klimt initially became close to the anatomist Emil Zuckerkandl and his wife Berta. Emil's brother, Viktor had made himself wealthy as a very successful steel magnate, and was keen to collect and support new art works. He and his wife were members of the circle of intellectuals, writers and collectors that included luminaries such as Ferdinand and Adele Bloch-Bauer, August and Serena Lederer and Gustav Mahler

Zuckerkandl's interest in art was not limited to Klimt. He was a great patron of the architect and designer Josef Hoffmann, commissioning him to complete first the Purkersdorf Sanatorium, then the Palais Stoclet in Brussels (on Berta's suggestion).

These, created in a clean, logical and simple style are now considered pioneering works in modernism. Today, the latter building contains artworks including four by Klimt - but unfortunately is not regularly open to the public.

Hoffmann was greatly in favour of the idea that internal furnishings could be as of great artistic merit as paintings or sculpture, and his work was greatly praised by contemporary art critics.

As a result of his enthusiasm for and collection of Hoffmann' design, Zuckerkandl's name is linked with a large proportion of these, for example a series of carefully designed chairs now held at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and works in glass are on show in New York's Museum of Modern Art.

But it was the commissioning and collecting of Klimt which probably had the greatest effect on the art world. Zuckerkandl built up one of the greatest collections of Klimt there has been, many of them acquired directly from the painter.


One notable example which existed because of the relationship was a work which remained unfinished at Klimt's death: a portrait of his sister Amalie Zuckerkandl, though this was paid for by another patron - her friend Teresa Bloch-Bauer. (A Klimt portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer is one of the Top Five most valuable art works ever auctioned.)

Another work possessed by Zuckerkandl was Kirche in Cassone. This is regarded as one of the painter's greatest ever works due to the uniting  of natural and architectural elements into harmony, with the interlocking forms creating a dynamic, shimmering surface.

Zuckerkandl died in 1927, and as his marriage was childless, the Klimt works were distributed throughout the family. Sadly some of the family, and hence the art works, fell victim to the Nazis during the Second World War.

A 1912 painting by Klimt of Paula Zuckerkandl, Viktor's wife, is thought to have been destroyed at this time. Others had simply disappeared, whether into Nazi hands or opportunists, by the end of the war.

Gustav Klimt Kirche in Cassone
Gustav Klimt's Kirche in Cassone

In 2007, Kirche in Cassone surfaced when a New Yorker who had bought it in good faith, tried to sell it at auction. They voluntarily ceded ownership to Zuckerkandl's relatives and the work was finally re-sold in 2009 in Sotheby's multi-record breaking sale.

Estimated at £12m-18m in the London auction, the piece surged ahead of this to bring £26.9m ($41.4m) making it artist's most valuable landscape ever to sell, and one of the most expensive landscapes of all time. One which might not have even been created were it not for Viktor Zuckerkandl and his family.

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