The remaining four works of a group of five paintings by Gustav Klimt looted by the Nazis are about to be sold after the first became the world's most expensive work earlier this summer.
All five originally belonged to Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer, a wealthy industrialist, and his wife, Adele. Adele - who may have been the artist's lover, was the only one of Klimt's models to be painted twice. The first of the portraits, dating from 1907, was sold for £73m in June to the Neue Galerie, a New York museum founded by the cosmetics-maker Ronald Lauder.
Now another, less formal version of the 1912 portrait is to be sold, as will two landscapes and a view of an apple tree. Maria Altmann, 90, the Bloch-Bauers' niece who led the restitution claim, said: "Since recovering the paintings, my family and I have focused our efforts on arranging exhibitions in LA and New York in order to share these beautiful works and their powerful story. Our family has now made the decision to part with them and has entrusted them to Christie's."
Ms Altmann and her fellow heirs fought a long battle in the courts of Austria and the United States to reclaim the works that had hung in Austrian public galleries since the war.
The root of the Austrian state's claims to the works was Adele Bloch-Bauer's will. Before her death from meningitis in 1925, she had indicated that the Klimts should be donated to the Austrian State Gallery. But her widowed husband was forced to flee their home in 1938 when the Nazis took over and the works were confiscated. In 1945, he named his nephews and nieces as the inheritors of his estate.
For years, there seemed little likelihood of them claiming their inheritance. But in 1998, amid international concern over the fate of Nazi-looted art, Austria introduced a restitution law. The family was initially unsuccessful in legal action in Austria but brought its case to the US Supreme Court. That ruled in 2004 that American courts had jurisdiction to decide their case and that the heirs could sue Austria in the US.
The parties submitted the case to binding arbitration in Austria and in January this year, a panel unanimously determined that the paintings should be returned to the heirs.
The decision was greeted with dismay in Austria with a public clamour for the works to be saved, but its government decided it could not afford to buy the works from the family, which appears to have decided the works are too impossibly valuable to keep.
Maria Altmann, who lives in California, said: "I can't have it in my house. There is no security for this. I would be always worried about being hit over the head."
The remaining four works by Klimt, an Austrian symbolist painter who lived from 1862 to 1918, will now be valued.Reuse content