UPDATED: US$32m long-lost Klimt portrait sells to an unnamed Hong Kong collector instead of HomeArt, clarified by the auction house

One of Gustav Klimt's final works, Portrait of Fräulein Lieser (1917), was snapped up by a Hong Kong collector for €38.5 million (with fees) at im Kinsky auction house in Vienna on 24 April, setting a record as the most expensive artwork sold in the region.  

Before the portrait resurfaced on the market in January, it had been known only from a 1925 black-and-white photograph and had been considered lost for a century. 

The winning bid of €30 million was placed by Patti Wong, co-founder of art advisory firm Patti Wong & Associates and former International Chairman of Sotheby's.

While the auction house did not identify the buyer, earlier AFP news agency reported it was sold to Hong Kong gallery HomeArt, whose founder is Rosaline Wong Wing-yue – a heavyweight collector known for having amassed major masterpieces by Klimt. 

UPDATED: On 26 April, the auction house clarified in a statement, "Comments following the auction gave the wrong impression that the buyer of the painting was "Home Art". This is not correct. Rather, the artwork was acquired by Patti Wong & Associates on behalf of an anonymous Hong Kong collector." 

Gustav Klimt (1862 - 1918) | Portrait of Fräulein Lieser, Oil on canvas (Auction record for the most expensive 
Created in 1917
140 x 80 cm

  • Estate of the artist
  • Adolf Lieser or Henriette Lieser, Vienna
  • Art dealer, Vienna
  • Austrian private property since the 1960s

Estimate: €30,000,000 - 50,000,000
Hammer Price: €30,000,000
Sold: €38,500,000

Auction House: im Kinsky
Sale: The Gustav Klimt Sale
Date: 24 April 2024

Last year, as Lady with a Fan set an auction record for any artwork in Europe – and tied Klimt's auction record held by the US$104.6-million (about £92-million) Birch Forest (1903) from the legendary Paul Allen collection – many speculated who is the new owner of the portrait. 

It is known that the work was acquired by a Hong Kong collector also through Patti Wong, who works closely with mega-rich Asian collectors, and one of the most mentioned names has been Rosaline Wong. 

Wong is formerly a Hong Kong barrister and the daughter of Michael Wong Kin-chow, a retired judge and the city's Equal Opportunities Commission chairman. A top player in the region, she is known to have close relationships with several Hong Kong tycoons such as Henry Cheng Kar-shun and Joseph Lau Luen-hung.  

In 2022, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam held the Golden Boy – Gustav Klimt exhibition, and her company HomeArt appeared to be the lender of not just one but two iconic masterpieces. 

Rosaline Wong (second right) attended the opening ceremony of the Rosaline Wong Gallery at Jesus College, University of Oxford

Gustav Kllimt | Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan) | Sold: £85,305,800 (US$108.4 million), Sotheby's London, 27 June 2023

One of them, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912), went for a then-record US$87.9 million in 2006 at Christie's New York to Oprah Winfrey, who reportedly sold it privately for around US$150 million ten years later to a Chinese collector. 

Another piece, Wasserschlangen II (1904-1907), has earlier been at the centre of the art world as it was one of the four works involved in the Sotheby's vs Dmitry Rybolovlev lawsuit. The Russian oligarch purchased it at US$183.3 million in 2012 and sold it to an Asian collector for US$170 million in 2015. 

Notably, part of her collection is open to the public at her namesake gallery at Jesus College at the University of Oxford. 

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912) 

Wasserschlangen II (1904-1907)

Ever since Portrait of Fräulein Lieser (1917) resurfaced on the market, there have been many questions about its unfinished condition and lack of well-documented provenance.

What is known is that Klimt started work on the piece in 1917, by which time he was among the most celebrated portraitists in Europe: commissions came thick and fast, for which he was able to command prices far higher than any of his contemporaries.

The patron's name of this piece was listed only as "Mrs. Lieser" – an upper-class family of leading Jewish industrialists of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. For decades, the work was believed to be commissioned by Adolf Lieser and portrayed his 18-year-old daughter, Margarethe Constance.

Gustav Klimt

The sitter of the portrait could be Helene Lieser

New research by the auction house, however, opens up the possibility that Klimt’s model could have been another member of the Lieser family: either Helene, the first-born of the art-loving Henriette Amalie Lieser-Landau, then-wife of Adolf’s brother Justus, or their younger daughter, Annie. During the Nazi period, Henriette was deported and murdered in the Holocaust.

Either who she is, the auction house said she visited Klimt’s studio nine times in April and May 1917 to pose for him, who made at least 25 preliminary studies on the subject.

Following Klimt’s death on 6 February 1918, the painting was left in his studio, barring a few unfinished spots, most notably in the orange-red background where a few charcoal markings were probably not painted in. It was then delivered by the executors of his will to whoever commissioned it. 

The only known photograph of the painting (left) is held in the archives of the Austrian National Library

Its whereabouts from there through 1960 remain largely a mystery, with the only existing record being a black-and-white photograph from 1925, around the time it last appeared in the public eye in a Viennese exhibition, that was held in the archives of the Austrian National Library. 

According to the auction house, it was acquired by a legal predecessor of the consignor in the 1960s and went to the current Austrian owner through three successive inheritances.

Unusually, there are no stamps or stickers on the back of the painting, but the auction house said it has "checked [the] history and provenance of the painting in all possible ways in Austria" and found no evidence of it being exported, confiscated, or looted during the Nazi era. 

Still, there was no proof that the work was not stolen, so the auction house had "assumed a worst-case scenario" and reached an agreement with the present owner and the Lieser heirs based on the Washington Principles, a set of guidelines for identifying and returning looted art, and both parties will receive a share of the proceeds from the auction.