Klimt Paintings May Be Sold for $140 Million, Art Sellers Say

June 29 (Bloomberg) -- Four Gustav Klimt paintings, including three landscapes and a portrait, ``Adele Bloch-Bauer II,'' may be sold this year for $140 million or more, said art dealers -- and auctioneers who have been competing for the job.

The four paintings, owned by Bloch-Bauer heirs, may be auctioned or sold privately, according to their lawyer. The value can be gauged from Austria's statement in February that it wouldn't pay the $300 million asking price for the family's five Klimt works. The cosmetics magnate Ronald S. Lauder bought the fifth, known as ``Golden Adele,'' for $135 million this month.

Richard L. Feigen, a New York dealer, values the remaining works by Austria's most famous artist at $130 million to $140 million. He puts the 1912 portrait, showing Bloch-Bauer in a long dress and hat, at about $60 million, and the landscapes, 1903's ``Buchenwald/Birkenwald,'' 1912's ``Apfelbaum I'' and 1916's ``Hauser in Unterach am Attersee,'' featuring birches, apple trees and houses, at $18 million, $25 million and $30 million, respectively.

``But they may go higher,'' said Feigen, an expert on 20th- century art. ``There's a tremendous amount of money out there looking for ever-decreasing supplies.''

The Bloch-Bauer paintings, stolen by the Nazis in 1938, hung in Vienna's Belvedere museum. They were restored in January to California's Maria Altmann and other heirs after a court fight with the Austrian government. Adele Bloch-Bauer, a Viennese art patron and wife of a Jewish sugar industrialist, Ferdinand, may have been Klimt's mistress, said Lauder's Neue Galerie of New York, which will show all five paintings starting July 13.

Sotheby's Holdings Inc. and Christie's International, the top two auction houses, have competed for the job of selling the heirs' remaining pictures, and the winner may be announced soon, said people close to the talks, who declined to be named.

Private Collectors

Potential bidders range from private collectors to Austria and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, whose show of the five Klimts ends on June 30, art experts said.

The Nazis looted many highly prized artworks. Egon Schiele's 1914 sunflowers took $21.5 million at a June 20 London auction, close to the artist's record and almost twice the top estimate.

Lauder's 1907 ``Adele Bloch-Bauer I,'' or ``Golden Adele,'' painted with gold in the background and fabric of Adele's dress after Klimt saw Ravenna's Byzantine mosaics, cost more than any painting sold at auction. Pablo Picasso's ``Dora Maar au Chat'' fetched $95.2 million in May in New York, about 9 percent less than a Picasso that went for $104.2 million in 2004.

``In the case of art, when something is priceless, you really don't negotiate about it,'' Lauder said on June 21.

Highest Value

The heirs will probably consign their other Klimts to the candidates who put the highest value on the pictures, and perhaps guarantee a minimum price to the family and forgo some commissions, experts said.

At an auction, the rewards for selling $140 million of art would be huge, even if the family paid no fees. Buyers at Christie's and Sotheby's pay a commission of 20 percent on the first $200,000 and 12 percent on the rest.

The heirs haven't made ``a final decision'' about the four Klimt pictures, said their lawyer, Steven Thomas of Irell & Manella in Los Angeles. ``Everything is on the table: auction, private sale, or holding onto the works. There are all kinds of private talks. The family hasn't put a value on the paintings.''

Klimt's auction record was set in 2003, when a landscape, ``Landhaus am Attersee,'' took $29.1 million. A Klimt painting of birch trees sold in 2004 for $3.7 million. Portraits usually command higher prices.

`Extremely Good'

``The second portrait (of Adele) is extremely good, but doesn't have the same iconic status in Klimt's work as the picture already acquired by Mr. Lauder, which is also a prime example of Viennese Secession art,'' said London dealer James Roundell, an impressionist and modern specialist. ``The landscapes are quite good, but more in line with other Klimts that have been on the market.''

Sotheby's valued all five Klimts for the Bloch-Bauer heirs in January, said Philip Hook, a senior Sotheby's director and impressionist and modern-art specialist. He wouldn't disclose the value. Christie's said it had a role in Lauder's purchase of a Klimt portrait, which it declined to specify.

In February, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel put a value on the five Klimts in his statement that the government would break off talks to buy them, ``because we don't think it will be possible to pay $300 million out of the budget.'' He later told parliament the works may be auctioned and said private sponsors may benefit from tax breaks should they buy them.

Austrian Petition

An Austrian group including art historians and conservators ``continues to petition for the purchase of the remaining four Klimt paintings belonging to the estate of Adele and Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer for the Austrian people,'' according to the group's Web site, http://www.proklimtbilder.at <http://www.proklimtbilder.at/>  /.

The Bloch-Bauers hosted salons that attracted artists including the composer Gustav Mahler and the writer Arthur Schnitzler. The family fled Vienna after the Nazis took power in Austria in 1938. Altmann, who turned 90 in February, opened a boutique in Los Angeles after fleeing Vienna and has been trying to get the paintings back since 1998, when Austria passed a law for art restitution.

Klimt, who died in 1918, may be best known for ``The Kiss.'' He attended Vienna's school of arts and crafts, and decorated some of the city's public buildings. Ornamental layouts, golden backgrounds and erotic themes are his trademarks.

Prices are rising for German and Austrian artists and Lauder has raised values for famous and decorative pictures. Still, auction houses sometimes overreach when they set prices too high.

Christie's, which sold Schiele's wilted sunflowers near the artist's high, said it might set a record for Schiele watercolors this month. It didn't, and some of the pictures failed to sell.

Lauder, co-founder of the Neue Galerie, is chairman of Estee Lauder Cos. unit, Clinique Laboratories LLC.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Linda Sandler in London at
lsandler@bloomberg.net and Katya Kazakina in New York at
Last Updated: June 29, 2006 01:20 EDT