Perils of Adele
Ronald S. Lauder buys a Klimt.
By Christopher Benfey
Posted Tuesday, June 20, 2006, at 3:53 PM ET
Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907
The stratospheric price that cosmetics maven Ronald S. Lauder shelled
for Gustav Klimt's 1907 society portrait Adele Bloch-Bauer I—reportedly $135
million, the most ever paid for a work of art—is the least of its luxury
attributes. Everything about this gold-flecked portrayal of a Viennese
sugar-manufacturer's wife radiates luxury, one of the three things (along
with calm and sexual pleasure) that Baudelaire said we require from great
art. The painting will look right at home when it arrives on July 13 (the
day before Klimt's birthday) in Lauder's jewellike Neue Galerie at Fifth
Avenue and 86th Street in New York. Through shrewd acquisitions and smartly
turned out exhibitions, no American has done more than Lauder, a former
ambassador to Austria, to raise the visibility (and enhance the value) of
often neglected German and Austrian art in the United States.
First, the painting itself is made of luxury materials. Under the joint
inspiration of Japanese lacquer and the Byzantine mosaics he'd studied in
Ravenna, Italy, Klimt, son of an engraver in precious metals, applied
generous expanses of gold and silver leaf directly onto the canvas. The
result is that Adele's head and hands seem to float in an entirely
artificial world, like Yeats' fantasy in "Sailing to Byzantium": "Once out
of nature I shall never take/ My bodily form from any natural thing,/ But
such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make/ Of hammered gold and gold
enameling." The luxury effect is enhanced by exotic symbols and swirls that
Klimt has borrowed from Egyptian and Mycenaean art and woven into the gilded
fabric of Adele's cascading dress.
Second, the painting shows a prominent member of Vienna's wealthy industrial
elite and was commissioned to show off her expensive charms. Women like
Adele Bloch-Bauer flocked to Klimt's elegant studio, which was outfitted
with Josef Hoffman's Wienerwerkstatte furnishings, and paid a high price for
the master's attentions. The resulting painting, displayed in the intimacy
of the bedroom, was itself the ideal emblem of opulence.
And third, the painting confirms the turn-of-the-century Viennese conviction
that sex was the proper province of the rich and cultivated. In his
voluminous pleated blue smock, Klimt—who once drew a self-portrait of
himself as genitalia—played the sexy artist to the hilt. Part of the
commission seemed to be that rumors would be spread of some hanky-panky
between artist and model. Lauder bought the painting from Adele's niece,
Maria Altmann, who once asked her mother about a possible love affair.
According to Carol Vogel's June 19 report in the New York Times, Altmann's
mother was furious and exploded, "How dare you ask such a thing? It was an
Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907-1908
Intellectual friendship was foreplay at a time and place when, under
tutelage, sex had gone upscale. The working classes copulated and
procreated, but sex, as portrayed by Klimt in his swooning The Kiss (also
1907), was something properly performed, like Schubert or Beethoven, in
upper-class drawing rooms. The femme fatale (or, in Freud's parlance,
castrating female) was in vogue; Richard Strauss' Salome premiered in Vienna
in 1907, and the American dancer Ruth St. Denis enthralled Viennese
audiences with her erotically exotic performance art. Adele Bloch-Bauer, who
entertained Strauss in her stylish salon, seems to have welcomed the femme
fatale treatment, via a silver choker (symbolizing decapitation, according
to Klimt scholar Alessandra Comini) of precisely the kind depicted in his
notorious paintings of the biblical heroine and man-killer Judith.
But one generation's femme fatale is the next generation's comforting
maternal presence. Walter Pater thought there was something kinky about the
Mona Lisa: "like the vampire, she has been dead many times." Now she looks
tame enough, with or without a moustache. Whatever sinister behavior Adele
Bloch-Bauer was scheming while coyly rubbing her slender hands is gone with
the wind. In the Klimt portrait, she looks like a preoccupied mom at a
members' opening at the Met. "This is our Mona Lisa," Lauder said, plausibly
enough. "I never saw her smile," Mrs. Altmann said of her aunt.
Maybe she sensed what was coming. As Robert Frost once wrote, "Nothing
can stay." The Bloch-Bauers were Jewish and the Nazis liked Klimts. Adele
died in 1925 of meningitis. After Germany annexed Austria in 1938, her
husband fled to Switzerland, where he died in 1945, having left his art
collection behind. The Nazis put three of the paintings in the Austrian
Gallery and sold the rest. A complicated restitution case played out over
many years, eventually going to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that
Mrs. Altmann, who lives in Los Angeles, could sue the Austrian government in
American courts for her family's lost property. In January, she was awarded
the portrait of her aunt along with four other Klimt paintings, including a
later portrait of Adele and three extraordinary landscapes (a genre in which
Klimt excelled). During the legal maneuvering, Ronald Lauder remained a
staunch supporter of Mrs. Altmann, and his loyalty was richly rewarded in
the privately arranged sale.
The Neue Galerie, New York
As for the $135 million, the price seems low to me. Most art prices
to me. What's a reasonable price for a one-of-a-kind masterpiece? If the
Texas Rangers once paid Alex Rodriguez twice that amount to play shortstop
for 10 years, hasn't Lauder gotten his Klimt, which he owns in perpetuity,
for a steal? (I'd rather have Adele on my wall than A-Rod on my team.)
Fortunately for the rest of us, Lauder's luxury object will be available to
all of us, radiating luxe, calme, et volupté forever. As for the fate of the
other four paintings in Mrs. Altmann's collection, also on view at the Neue
Galerie through Sept. 18, stay tuned.
Christopher Benfey, Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke, writes
about art for Slate.
Photograph of Gustav Klimt's Adele Bloch-Bauer I courtesy the Neue Gallery,
New York; photograph of Gustav Klimt, The Kiss © The Yorck Project and
licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, courtesy
www.wikipedia.com; photograph of the Neue Gallery courtesy the Neue Gallery,
Correction: June 20, 2006
Because of an editing error, an article in The Arts yesterday about Ronald
S. Lauder's purchase of Gustav Klimt's "Adele Bloch-Bauer I" for $135
million, the most ever paid for a painting, misspelled the name of the Nazi
commander who occupied a summer palace near Prague owned by the Bloch-Bauer
family. He was Reinhard Heydrich, not Reinhardt Hedrick. Also because of an
editing error, the article misspelled a word in the title of another Klimt
painting owned by the Bloch-Bauer family. It is "Houses in Unterach on Lake
Atter," not Utterach.
June 21, 2006 E-mail story Print Most E-Mailed
Yours for a price
One Klimt sold for a record amount. What will its four siblings fetch?
By Christopher Reynolds, Times Staff Writer
At the Cheviot Hills home of Maria Altmann, the phone rings and rings.
time, a machine answers with the jaunty voice of a 90-year-old woman who has
had a very good June.
"Hello. This is Maria. I will be out of town for a couple of weeks.
statement on the painting is that it was important to the heirs and to my
aunt Adele that the painting be displayed in a museum. We chose a museum
that is a bridge between Europe and the United States."
"The painting" is now the costliest artwork known in the world: a sensuous
Gustav Klimt portrait of Altmann's aunt that the family peddled for more
than $104 million, perhaps $135 million, to the Neue Galerie, a small New
York museum founded by cosmetics billionaire Ronald S. Lauder.
To get the artwork from Altmann's family, Lauder's people prevailed
several of the world's wealthiest collectors and several major institutions,
including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which has been displaying
the painting and four other family-owned Klimts since early April.
Now, with those other Klimts headed for a likely sale, collectors and
leaders are looking closely at the last deal to see how the next ones might
go. Though the details of the negotiation and purchase have been closely
guarded and Lauder was unavailable for comment, several sources close to the
deal and art-world insiders say there are at least two lessons here.
First: Altmann and her four fellow heirs in the Bloch-Bauer clan do
appear to have fallen off a turnip truck. For one thing, their instincts
have been sharpened by seven years of legal skirmishing against the
government of Austria. Also, though the long fight for the paintings ended
just five months ago, at least some of the heirs also have shared in earlier
Second: Lauder won the prize with a stealth campaign. While many in
world whispered that his separation last year from his wife, Jo Carole,
might restrict his access to wheelbarrows full of cash, he quietly
orchestrated a campaign on two fronts. With one hand, he had his museum
staff laying closely guarded plans to succeed LACMA as temporary exhibitor
of the five Klimts. What many staffers at the Neue Galerie and LACMA didn't
know until the closing days of the deal was the depth of Lauder's second
level of secret haggling with the heirs.
"I consider it a stunning move for him and, quite frankly, it's exactly
where the painting should be," said Douglas Chrismas, owner of Ace Gallery
in Los Angeles. Chrismas said Lauder "has built this museum as a flagship of
this period of art. It would be incorrect for that painting to be anywhere
else in the United States."
The painting "Adele Bloch-Bauer I," which Klimt made in 1907, glitters
gold and signals the arrival of Modernism in Europe, but it's also been
touched by some of the 20th century's ugliest history. The canvas is one of
six seized by Nazis from Vienna's Bloch-Bauer family in 1938. After a long
legal battle, five were returned to the family's heirs in January.
In their battles for restitution from Austria, they chose Los Angeles
attorney E. Randol Schoenberg, already a family friend, as their principal
warrior. At the time, Schoenberg was not quite 32, seven years out of law
school. But over the next seven years, in courtrooms on two continents,
including the U.S. Supreme Court, Schoenberg got results. The Klimts were
the biggest victory, but not the only one.
On Altmann's behalf, Schoenberg has also won a quarter interest — estimated
value: $1.5 million — in a historic Vienna building. On behalf of the
Bloch-Bauer heirs, he won a settlement from Austrian banks — amount not
disclosed — and 19 pieces of porcelain and 16 Klimt drawings with a
collective value "in the $600,000 range," Schoenberg said.
But the biggest win came on April 14, 2005, from the Claims Resolution
Tribunal, a fund established to settle lawsuits against Swiss banks over
their actions during World War II.
In that case, Schoenberg got a dozen family members — including the
involved in the Klimt paintings — a payment of $21.8 million. Bloch-Bauer
heirs shared that amount with heirs of Otto Pick, a partner of Bloch-Bauer
in the Austrian sugar industry before the war.
Apart from Altmann, the Klimt-owning heirs have shunned the spotlight.
live in Vancouver, one in eastern Canada and one in Northern California. All
are 60 or older.
At Schoenberg's suggestion, Steve Thomas, a Los Angeles attorney and
in Irell & Manella, entered the picture in late February. The attorney, who
has specialized in art deals for more than a decade, said he spent all of
March meeting family members, tutoring them in the subtleties of the art
world, handling logistics of moving the paintings to Los Angeles and
negotiating with LACMA over the show here.
By the end of April, Thomas said, he and family members "were getting
serious discussions, building consensus on what they wanted and didn't
Though these five got "a very small portion" of last year's Swiss bank
restitution payment, "these are not individually wealthy people, like some
people might be assuming," Thomas said. "But they're very sophisticated."
Meanwhile, Thomas was talking with Lauder.
Divorce no obstacle
To win over the heirs, Thomas said, Lauder had to commit to public display,
not a loan or shared-ownership arrangement, as other prospective buyers
proposed. And he had to come up with enough money — a tough job for many men
facing divorce prospects. But Lauder's wealth has been estimated at $2.7
billion, and he has well informed advisors.
Lauder's recent frequent companion, Daniella Luxembourg, is a London
dealer who has served as director of Sotheby's and Phillips auction houses.
"I assumed that he was the most interested party in the world," LACMA
Director Michael Govan said of Lauder. "I just didn't know how he pieced it
together. Nobody knows how he pulled it together."
Schoenberg said he first met Lauder in 1999, and that the Commission
Recovery — founded and chaired by the billionaire — had helped pay for an
expert opinion in 2002 when Schoenberg's tug-of-war with Austria over the
Klimts was still going on. In February, Schoenberg met with Lauder in Vienna
and talked about the paintings.
Plans set in motion
As his campaign to buy the artwork advanced, Lauder set plans in motion
a brief Klimt exhibition at the Neue Galerie, which Thomas says would have
gone forward even if Lauder hadn't completed a purchase. For logistical
reasons, LACMA's top leaders had to know about the Neue Galerie show, but
Thomas required that LACMA officials sign agreements to keep mum on the next
"There was a lot of strategy," Thomas said. "Ronald and I would plan
meetings very carefully to be in places where neither of us would be
There were about half a dozen meetings in Los Angeles and New York,
locations Thomas wouldn't disclose. Meanwhile, he said, staging the
exhibition at the museum "aided us in confusing people.... It gave us a good
While the heirs and Lauder drew closer, other suitors pressed their
cases. Thomas called LACMA's bid "a very serious effort" that entailed talks
with Govan and more than one museum trustee. LACMA's ambition was to acquire
all of the pictures, rather than just one or two.
"We tried a number of different things to work with them," Thomas said.
they had limitations on what they were able to offer." In fact, Thomas said,
in the current booming art market, it's now clear that those five Klimts
together amounted to "too large a purchase for any one museum."
The $135-million figure — first used by the New York Times, citing anonymous
sources — hasn't been disputed by anyone close to the deal. But Govan said
he does wonder whether that was the highest bid.
"What I don't know," he said, "is if they were offered $150 million
Russian billionaire or someone else."
Declining to talk specifically, Thomas said the family "could have sold
for more, probably, if they had gone to private collectors" and hadn't
required permanent public display.
Govan noted that in navigating these waters, Altmann "balanced family
interests, financial interests and public interests.... If these were her
paintings, it may be a different outcome."
And what about the other four pictures?
They include a second portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, painted several
later with more greens and black, and no gold; and three landscapes. It was
a landscape that fetched the highest price ever paid for a Klimt painting at
auction: $29.1 million in November 2003.
Experts have speculated that the four Klimts, sold together or individually,
could bring as much as $150 million collectively. Then again, after all the
attention paid to the "gold portrait," they might be seen by some
status-minded collectors as a consolation prize.
"I'm not expecting that somebody is going to come in and buy four together,"
said Thomas. The family is keeping its options open, he said, but "it would
be an auction in November if there was going to be an auction of any one or
more of them."
But the ACE Gallery's Chrismas said an auction would not be the family's
best option. "I think they are such wonderful paintings that, especially
with this benchmark that has been established, the family can have them
placed quietly. I'm sure they have lots of offers coming in," said Chrismas.
Also, he added, "it is not necessary to keep them together. Each of
paintings is a thing unto itself. We are not talking about Monet's
haystacks, where it would be wonderful to have seven of them in a row."
Asked if LACMA would mount an effort to get one or more of the remaining
pictures, Govan said Tuesday, "I don't know.... We have a board meeting
tomorrow. I'm sure it's going to be a topic of discussion."
Times staff writer Suzanne Muchnic contributed to this report.
More Klimt paintings could be sold after record set
By Arthur Spiegelman
Tuesday, June 20, 2006; 2:44 AM
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It is the art world's version of
the last laugh.
The Jewish family that waged a titanic battle to force Austria to return
five paintings by modernist painter Gustav Klimt that were stolen from it by
the Nazis have sold one for a world record price of $135 million and now
must determine whether they want to sell the other four.
Art experts said a bidding war could now develop between major museums
collectors for the remaining works by Klimt, which could together fetch
between $100 million and $150 million. A family spokesman said the heirs did
not want to keep the paintings.
Billionaire cosmetics fortune heir Ronald Lauder bought the gem of the
collection -- a gold flecked portrait of a sensuously red-lipped Adele
Bloch-Bauer, the wife of an industrialist whose company and possessions were
seized by the Nazis in 1938 as he fled after Germany's annexation of
The painting is considered one of the iconic images of 20th-century
Lauder paid $135 million, easily surpassing the previous record of $104.1
million paid for Picasso's 1905 masterpiece "Boy With a Pipe" at auction in
2004. It will hang in the Neue Galerie, a small Fifth Avenue museum Lauder
built to showcase German and Austrian art.
"It is a great price for a great painting," one art expert said, adding
it could have an effect on the market which already this year is seeing
strong prices for works by major artists, including $95 million paid for a
portrait by Picasso of his mistress.
After World War Two, Austria held on to the Klimt paintings that the
took from the family, saying that Mrs. Bloch-Bauer had wanted the country to
have them when she died in 1925 at age 43. But her husband Ferdinand willed
the works to his survivors when he died in Switzerland in 1945.
In 2000, a niece of Mrs. Bloch-Bauer, Maria Altmann, now aged 90, launched
legal battle in the United States to have the paintings returned. In
January, after several U.S. court rulings against Austria, an Austrian
arbitration tribunal ruled in Altmann's favor and the paintings were given
to the family.
Los Angeles attorney E. Randol Schoenberg, who represented the heirs,
the surviving family members never thought of what they would do with the
paintings if they won them back.
But as soon as the arbitration panel rendered its decision, the family
flooded with offers. The Neue Galerie was chosen because it was important to
the family that the paintings be on public view forever and not wind up in
someone's private collection, Schoenberg told Reuters.
"Mrs. Altmann is very happy to have found a solution for this painting,"
The $135 Million Klimt Portrait With A Rich Background
By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 20, 2006; Page C01
LOS ANGELES, June 19 -- It has been a long journey for the lustrous
mysterious portrait in gold of the Viennese Jewish society lady Adele
Bloch-Bauer -- a work at the center of one of the most sensational Nazi art
theft cases ever -- but now the 1907 Gustav Klimt painting has found a
"It was important to the heirs and to my aunt Adele that the painting
a museum," and not in a private collection, said Bloch-Bauer's niece Maria
Altmann, the 90-year-old former dress saleslady in L.A. who is among five
heirs who will share the record-breaking $135 million that billionaire
cosmetics magnate Ronald S. Lauder and others reportedly paid for the
Maria Altmann, center, chats with Michael Govan, left, director of the
Angeles County Museum of Art, and her attorney, E. Randol Schoenberg, in
front of the Gustav Klimt painting of Altmann's aunt. (Ric Francis -- AP)
The work, titled "Adele Bloch-Bauer I," will become the centerpiece
Lauder's Neue Galerie in New York, a small museum with a small collection of
166 works devoted to the art of Germany and Austria from 1890 to 1940. Neue
means new in German, and the gallery traces the rise of modernism in
painting and the decorative arts in middle Europe.
"Absolutely, this will be a destination painting that will bring people
the gallery," said Scott Gutterman, the museum's deputy director. Founded in
2001, the gallery gets around 200,000 visitors a year, "but that figure now
is expected to grow."
Lauder, who was traveling and could not be reached for comment, told
Associated Press from Jerusalem that the portrait was "a painting we all
wanted . . . It's a stunning picture. It overwhelms you with its beauty and
Klimt's portrait in gold leaf and oil is one of the world's most
recognizable works, reproduced on posters, coffee mugs, key rings, drink
coasters, T-shirts and even clogs.
There is something very appealing, obviously, to viewers in Adele's
and pose and in the way Klimt surrounded this wife of a Jewish sugar baron,
who may have been the artist's secret lover, with a golden geometry and
icons of Egyptian motif, including open eyes and almond shapes, which the
Neue folks describe as having "sexual connotations." Renee Price, director
of the Neue Galerie, in a statement said that the Klimt portrait is as
important to that museum as Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" is to the Louvre
in Paris -- and in some ways the two paintings share a character of intrigue
and invite the viewer to wonder what the women were thinking and feeling.
Citing confidentiality agreements, the attorneys, the gallery and the
declined to state for the record the sale price. The New York Times, quoting
"experts familiar with the negotiations," reported Monday the work went for
$135 million, and nobody was disagreeing with that figure in their
conversations with The Washington Post.
That figure would make the Bloch-Bauer portrait the most expensive single
painting ever known to be sold, besting the $104.1 million paid for Pablo
Picasso's 1905 "Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice)" at a Sotheby's
auction in 2004. The 62-year-old Lauder, whose wealth Forbes estimated at
$2.7 billion in March, found others to help buy the piece for the Upper East
Side museum but paid for the bulk of the purchase himself.
"This is a fabulous end to what is a terrific story. It was possible
heirs to get a fair price and for the painting to remain in the public eye,"
said E. Randol Schoenberg, the lawyer who successfully fought a seven-year
legal battle few thought he would win to have Austria return the Bloch-Bauer
portrait and four other Klimt paintings.
Steven Thomas, the lawyer who negotiated the sale for the heirs, said
museums and 10 private collectors were serious potential buyers. Thomas said
that Lauder and Neue Galerie won out because the painting would be on
permanent public display and shown in context with other Austrian art. "They
got a fair price," Thomas said, "but they could have made more money selling
to a private collector and possibly a lot more if it went to auction."
Klimt spent three years painting the portrait of Bloch-Bauer, which
commissioned by her husband, Ferdinand. After the work was completed it hung
on the walls of the couple's mansion in Vienna. Klimt died in 1918. Before
Adele died of meningitis in 1925, she wrote of her intention that the Klimt
paintings be donated to an Austrian museum after she and Ferdinand were
gone. But Adele could not have known of the rise of Hilter, the Nazi
annexation of Austria and the Holocaust. After Ferdinand fled to
Switzerland, where he died in 1945, he changed his wills, but by then the
Nazis had already seized the couple's home, the sugar factory, their
porcelain collection and the Klimts, which ended up at the Austrian Gallery
of the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, near another famous Klimt painting, "The
A change in Austrian law making it possible for art seized by the Nazis
be returned, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision that would have let Maria
Altmann and the heirs sue for the paintings in this country, led to the case
being heard in Vienna, where an arbitration panel ruled in January that the
paintings were inappropriately acquired and should be returned.
Austria could have sought to purchase the five works, but with a value
some $300 million, the Austrian culture minister, Elisabeth Gehrer, said the
country couldn't afford them. Yesterday, Viennese art fanciers mourned the
sale and criticized authorities for failing to keep the works. Said Rudolf
Leopold, director of a large modern-art museum there, "Mr. Lauder paid too
Since April the paintings have been on display at the Los Angeles County
Museum of Art, where they have attracted 9,000 people a week; the museum had
sought to put together a pool of donor-buyers. "We were trying for all
five," said Stephanie Barron, a senior curator there. Barron pointed out
that few museums could match the Lauder offer, which she called "a
staggering amount of money."
The billionaire Eli Broad, for example, is funding an entire building
Los Angeles museum to house a modern-art collection -- at a cost of $50
million. "And that's for a whole museum building," Barron said.
Still, Barron said, "we're sad to see the paintings leave L.A., but
glad they going to a museum in the United States that values this work and
the work of Germany and Austria from this period."
Maria Altmann's son Peter said that the heirs could not be happier with
the sale turned out. "My mom always does the right thing," he said. He said
the Neue Galerie will honor the backstory behind the paintings -- their loss
and return -- and will bridge their journey from the Old World to the new.
"We think it's just perfect," he said, "just right."
The heirs have not decided what to do with the other four Klimts. For
they will travel on loan to the Neue Galerie for an exhibition scheduled to
run July 13 through Sept. 18.
Lauder Loved Klimt Portrait at First Sight, So He Bought It
(The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Bloomberg.)
By Lindsay Pollock
June 20 (Bloomberg) -- Speaking from his car in Jerusalem, Ronald S. Lauder,
the cosmetics magnate and art collector, said he first glimpsed Gustav
Klimt's 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch- Bauer as a teenager and wanted it ever
The painter of Vienna's fin-de-siecle neurasthenic upper classes has
back into favor during the past two decades. Lauder, who was en route to the
World Zionist Congress, talked to me this morning about his expensive
purchase, which key people close to the negotiations confirmed at $135
Lauder bought the shimmering picture for New York's Neue Galerie, of
he is co-founder and president. The portrait was among five Klimts returned
to the heirs of the original owners, who had lost them to the Nazis in 1938
and fought for their return in a drawn-out court battle with the Austrian
Lauder said the Klimt will be displayed over the fireplace in the Neue
Galerie's special exhibition of all five returned Klimts that starts on July
Pollock: When did you become fascinated by Klimt?
Lauder: I took a trip to Vienna as a teenager and saw Klimt's ``The
and ``Bloch-Bauer.'' I found them absolutely stunning. Whenever I went back
to Vienna, I visited them.
Pollock: How long did it take you to decide to buy the Klimt?
Lauder: Thirty seconds.
Choosing a Favorite
Pollock: If you had to take one picture to the next world, which might
Lauder: At this point, this would be it.
Pollock: Are there many great Austrian works still available?
Lauder: Of this quality? None. Of very good quality? Maybe a dozen.
Pollock: How is the market for German and Austrian artwork different
that of other European art?
Lauder: After World War II, many refugees took work out with them, and
prices were always very low. It wasn't until the 1980s and 1990s that prices
started to really go up. I started buying in the 1970s, when prices were
low, but there were very few pieces avaiable. Now, as owners start to die,
there is more available.
Pollock: For the Klimt, how did you and the seller settle on a price?
Lauder: The conversation lasted a minute. In the case of art, when something
is priceless, you really don't negotiate about it.
Pollock: Are you always this decisive?
Pollock: Does the money thing overshadow the painting, or does it bring
the proper amount of attention?
Lauder: The money aspect has nothing to do with the painting. The painting
is priceless. A few days ago I was in Paris and I went to see the Mona Lisa.
How do you value that?
(Lindsay Pollock writes on the art market for Bloomberg News. The opinions
expressed are her own.)
To contact the writer of this story:
Lindsay Pollock at email@example.com.
Last Updated: June 20, 2006 19:01 EDT
June 20, 2006 Edition > Section: Editorials > Printer-Friendly Version
New York Sun Staff Editorial
June 20, 2006
One day some years ago Ronald Lauder was the subject of a not entirely flattering front page profile in
the Wall Street Journal that mentioned, en passant, that he had spent $10,000 of his bar mitzvah money
to purchase a drawing by Egon Schiele. This provoked some hilarity around the newspaper office we
were in at the time. But a few days later news crossed the wires that an Egon Schiele drawing had just
sold for $1.87 million. On a hunch, we phoned the erstwhile ambassador to Austria and asked him
whether the drawing he'd bought for $10,000 was the one that had just sold. No, we were told, but it was
We thought of that story when we read (on the New York Times Web site) Sunday evening that the heir
to part of the Estée Lauder fortune has paid $135 million for Gustav Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-
Bauer. It may be the greatest amount of money known to have been paid for a single painting. But the
bar mitzvah drawing reminds that the last time we heard someone laugh at Mr. Lauder's preparedness to
toss money at art he increased the value of his investment by something like 19,000%. And in the case
of the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the upside will go to the city of New York.
For the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer will be placed this summer in Mr. Lauder's Neue Galerie at 86th
Street and Fifth Avenue in New York's Museum Mile. The acquisition will be celebrated with an
exhibition of five Klimts. Klimt's work has exercised a significant influence on modern art, not only
because of his role in the Vienna Secession movement that brought together the leading lights of
Austrian art nouveau around the turn of the twentieth century but also because Klimt was active in
fostering the careers of talented young artists he encountered in his career, most notably Egon Schiele,
whose works were influenced by Klimt's.
Yet the bulk of Klimt's publicly displayed works remain in Austria. Only a handful have been available
to ordinary art lovers in America. This painting, not to mention the larger exhibit that will mark its
arrival, will be a welcome change, bringing one of the artist's most important works to a permanent
home on a new continent. It won't be the first time Mr. Lauder has had a big impact on a museum. He
was chairman of the Museum of Modern Art. Beyond museums, he has been a leading voice for
Holocaust restitution, although his strategic decisions during that period sometimes met with criticism
from the editors who conduct these columns. Some works in the Neue Galerie are still clouded by
None of this has deterred Mr. Lauder from taking big risks, though the provenance of the portrait of
Adele Bloch-Bauer is not now in dispute. Until January, it was to be seen in Austria's national museum,
property of the Austrian government. It came to America earlier this year after a 90-year-old widow in
Los Angeles, Maria Altmann, finally won her claim to be the legitimate heir of the owner from whom
the Nazis stole the work in the 1930s. We are struck with the fact that the passage of the work and its
Page 1 of 2 Lauder's Vision
siblings into private hands has not led to their concealment from public eyes. Ms. Altmann is said to
have been adamant that any purchaser agree to display the painting in a museum.
Indeed, news reports of the transaction in the Los Angeles Times note that she is said to have turned
down prospective buyers who might have been willing to pay even more than Mr. Lauder but who
would not have been willing to commit to putting the work on display. The Austrians still have "The
Kiss," arguably Klimt's most famous work, in their museum in Vienna. But the working of the private
market has resulted, in this case, in the dispersal of other Klimt works to places where new audiences
will come in contact with the art. Mr. Lauder is joining the pantheon of such American collectors as
Frick, Mellon, the Cone sisters, and Getty, who used their private money to bring great art to the public.
And what a story. Mr. Lauder's mother, Estee, was raised in Queens and started by selling handmade
lotions to a single Manhattan beauty parlor during the Depression. Over the years, Mr. Lauder has
applied his money both to art and politics. Serving his country as ambassador to Austria, he startled
Europe by boycotting the inauguration of President Waldheim, who had worn a Nazi uniform during
World War II. Returning to America, Mr. Lauder ran for mayor in 1989, only to be buried by Rudolph
Giuliani. Mr. Lauder dusted himself off and launched a drive for term limits, resulting in a historic
sweeping out of the City Council and paving the way for another larger than life figure from the private
sector, Michael Bloomberg, to be elected mayor. For all that Mr. Lauder's greatest impact on the city
may turn out to result from the same instinct that led him to plunge $10,000 of his bar mitzvah money
on a drawing in which he, way ahead of others, saw the value.
June 20, 2006 Edition > Section: Editorials > Printer-Friendly Version
Page 2 of 2 Lauder's Vision
£73m golden portrait by Klimt is a world-beater
She looks emotionally vulnerable, glistens brightly, was seized by the
when they invaded Austria and clearly has the power to move very rich men.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer
Click here for a larger version
Yesterday, the portrait of a handsome Austrian woman who was painted
Gustav Klimt in 1907 became the world's most expensive painting.
The portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a wealthy Jewish Viennese
sugar merchant, has been bought for $135 million (£73 million) by Ronald
Lauder, the son of the late Estee Lauder, the cosmetics queen.
Mr Lauder, thrilled with his purchase, told The Daily Telegraph: "It
a question of money; I don't think of it that way.
"I just think that I am the owner of this fantastic painting by one
greatest artists of all time.
"I was bowled over when I saw it for the first time in Vienna when I
teenager in the 1960s.
"I never thought it would ever be available."
The private sale easily beats the previous world record price, when
Picasso's Boy with a Pipe (The Young Apprentice) fetched $104 million (£57
million) at a Sotheby's auction two years ago.
Mr Lauder, 61, once a close associate of Ronald Reagan and a former
ambassador to Austria, is one of the most powerful figures in the American
For 10 years he was the chairman of the board of the Museum of Modern
in New York, and in 2001 he opened his own museum, the Neue Galerie, in
Manhattan, dedicated to early 20th century art and design. That is where
Adele Bloch-Bauer is destined to hang.
The tiny museum, housed in a Fifth Avenue mansion, already has a Klimt,
Dancer, bought by Mr Lauder, as well as works by Egon Schiele, Max Beckmann
and Josef Hoffmann.
Its director, Renée Price, said of the new Klimt: "This is our Mona
is a once in a lifetime acquisition."