Image: Frauenbildnis (Portrait of Ria Munk III) an oil and charcoal on canvas work created by a leading Viennese artist at the turn of the 20th century Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), sold at Christie’s London for £18.8 million on June 23, 2010 – image scanned from an art catalogue.
The full length portrait Ria Munk III (Frauenbildnis) depicts a wealthy young Jewish girl, Ria Munk, niece of Klimt’s major patron Serena Lederer. Ria Munk committed suicide after a row her lover in 1911. Monk’s mother Aranka commissioned Klimt to paint a deathbed portrait of the girl, after his first two efforts were rejected by the family. He began work on Ria Munk III in 1917, painting it in bright colors and showing Ria in repose against a richly decorative background.
After Klimt’s death the following year, the painting hung in the Austrian industrialist family’s lakeside villa at Bad Aussee until 1941. During the Second World War, as part of Hitler’s Ethnic Cleansing plan, that later became notorious as the Holocaust in which an estimated six million Jews were murdered, Nazis captured the house and all the belongings of the Munk Family and ejected them from their property because they were Jewish.
The portrait passed to William Gurlitt, an art dealer. In 1953, Ria Munk III was donated to a gallery in Linz, that later became the Lentos Museum where the portrait remained till last year when it was voluntarily returned to the heirs of the Munk family who had sent it for sale at Christie's on June 23.
Portrait of Ria Munk III sold for £18.8 million, more than its estimated price -- £14-18 million ($20-26 million). According to Giovanna Bertazzoni, Christie’s director of Impressionist and Modern art, ‘the picture was only the second or third comparable example of the artist’s work to be offered at auction over the past 20 years’.
Works by Klimt are on the list of the world’s most expensive paintings. According to reports, collector Ronald Lauder purchased Klimt’s 1907 ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ for his New York-based Neue Galerie in 2006 for $144.8 million.