Sale of Klimt for '£73m' breaks world record

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The Independent US

A private art museum in New York founded by Ronald Lauder, the cosmetics heir and billionaire tycoon, has reportedly paid a record $135m (£73m) for a Gustav Klimt portrait, until recently the subject of a notorious Nazi restitution battle.

Considered one of Klimt's most important works, the 1907 portrait is an exuberant homage in oil and gold to Adele Bloch-Bauer, a Viennese socialite and - according to some historians - a mistress of the artist. Its visual accessibility has made it one of the most widely recognised works of any 20th-century artist.

"This is our Mona Lisa," Mr Lauder told the New York Times, confirming that the painting will shortly be hanging in the Neue Galerie he set up in 2001.

The purchase price cited by the Times - Mr Lauder is forbidden from confirming the actual number by confidentiality agreements - is enough to put the painting in the record books. Until now, the highest known price ever paid was $104.1m at a Sotheby's auction two years ago for Picasso's 1905 'Boy with Pipe'.

The seller is Maria Altmann, a niece of Ms Bloch-Bauer living in Los Angeles, who only this January won a protracted legal battle to reclaim ownership of this and four other Klimt paintings.

Ms Bloch-Bauer died in 1925 and the painting passed to her widower, Ferdinand, a wealthy industrialist and sugar refinery owner in Austria.

In 1938, the whole family - including Ms Altmann, who is now 90 years old - fled the country and its new Nazi rulers. Left behind was a huge catalogue of family treasures, all confiscated by the Nazis.

For the next six decades, the painting - 'Adele Bloch-Bauer I' - hung in the Austrian Gallery in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna and remained one of Austria's most beloved national treasures. In a will written before his death in 1945 Ferdinand indicated he wanted it to remain there .

But Ms Altmann maintained that the painting rightfully belonged to her and her heirs. When the Austrian government passed legislation in 1998 approving the return of all artworks plundered by the Nazis, she began legal action. In 2004, the US Supreme Court affirmed her right to sue the Austrian government, which surrendered the works this January.

Ms Altmann loaned the work in April to the Los Angeles County Museum. Her decision to sell it is a bitter disappointment to that museum. In a statement Ms Altmann said only that it was "important to the heirs and to my Aunt Adele that her painting be displayed in a museum".

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