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19 June 2006

Ars longa, vita brevis


If you steal something, you can't keep it. You have to give it back.

~ ~ ~

Associated Press
Monday 19 June 2006 19:38 US EDT

Lauder Guides Museum
to Buy Klimt Painting


LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Ron Lauder first saw Gustav Klimt's "Adele Bloch-Bauer I" as a teenager in Vienna, and the gold-hued portrait of a dark-haired woman with bare shoulders left an impression that endured through time.

"It's a stunning picture. It overwhelms you with its beauty and its power," the cosmetics magnate told The Associated Press Monday during a telephone interview from Jerusalem.

It is a painting, he said, "we all wanted."

The 1907 masterpiece, whose extraordinary journey through the hands of the Nazis is part of its historical allure, was purchased for a record price of $135 million by a small New York City museum that specializes in German and Austrian art, Neue Galerie, which Lauder co-founded in 2001.

Lauder, a billionaire who serves as the museum's president, helped "put the museum in a position to acquire it" as part of a complex financial transaction, said Steven Thomas, an attorney who handled the sale for Maria Altmann, Bloch-Bauer's niece, and her family. "I don't think he loaned any money," Thomas added, but declined to release further details.

Citing confidentiality agreements, Lauder and Thomas did not confirm or deny the sale price, which was reported Monday by The New York Times. Thomas said it surpassed the prior record of $104.1 million paid at auction for Picasso's 1905 "Boy With a Pipe (The Young Apprentice)."

"When I heard it was available after coming out of Austria, I did everything I could to buy it as quickly as possible," Lauder said.

Beyond its dazzling beauty, the painting is part of a historical and family saga that courses through turn-of-the-century Vienna, the Nazi occupation of Europe, the U.S. Supreme Court and, finally, Los Angeles.

"Think of the time, then what happened to this family ... having to flee the country. The expropriation first by the Nazis, then the state," Lauder said.

"This painting is very much part of this story -- part of the 20th century," Lauder added.

As part of the agreement, the golden painting, now displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, will be moved to the New York museum with four other Klimts for an exhibition from July 13 through September 18.

When asked if he would seek to buy the other Klimts, also owned by Bloch-Bauer heirs, Lauder said, "Perhaps."

Altmann, 90, was a young newlywed when she watched the Nazis seize power in 1938 and loot the portrait and four other Klimt works from her aunt and uncle's home. Since then, the portrait has hung mostly in the Austrian Gallery Belvedere in Vienna, near Klimt's famous painting "The Kiss."

But in 1998 a law in Austria required museums to return art seized by the Nazis, and Altmann spent the next seven years fighting the Austrian government to recover the family collection. A lawsuit against the Austrian government eventually ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2004 ruled in Altmann's favor.

Following arbitration, the Austrian government awarded all five paintings to Altmann and her family in January.

Lauder's ties to the New York museum and his relationship with Altmann -- he's known her for eight years -- apparently facilitated the purchase. Altmann's lawyer has said she wanted to ensure the art would remain somewhere in public view, where it would stand as a testament to the struggle of her family and other Jews in the Holocaust.

"The family always had in mind the Neue Galerie," Lauder said.

The painting will become the centerpiece of the little museum's collection in New York, where it should immediately increase the museum's popularity and reputation.

After so much, a happy ending?

"It's a happy ending for me," Lauder said.

As for Altmann, she was out of the country Monday but left a message on her home telephone answering machine: "We chose a museum that is a bridge between Europe and the United States." The museum will "be an excellent home for the gold portrait," she said.

- 30 -

© 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


Blogger Jim Olson said...

I've seen this painting. It is truly stunning, and nearly life size. Computer imaging does not do it justice.

Good for Frau Altmann for allowing it to remain on public display as well.

Blogger Bob Merkin said...

I think the guy who stole the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, they found it hanging in his bathroom. Probably a little bathroom off his bedroom that nobody else used.

Nobody needs to pass laws demanding that great art (e.g., my faux postage stamps) be displayed to the public. The economics push it ferociously in that direction. You buy "Nude Descending a Staircase," and your next call on the cell phone is to the private security company to hire 24-hour guards, and a $100,000 upgrade of your home security system, and new sprinklers. Assuming your insurance company will even touch the thing, they will have Very Expensive Suggestions for you, too. Even if you can afford all this, your beautiful unique art treasure very quickly ceases to delight you and becomes one monster headache. So all great art these days, no matter who really holds the bill of sale, gets pushed into public museums.

Teddy Kennedy has been trying to push through a federal law that says every time a piece of art gets re-sold, The Artist (remember him/her?) gets a small percentage. The Art Market hates it. Art is far more beautiful knowing that the artist died broke of TB in an alley. During his lifetime, Van Gogh never sold a single painting. Boyoboy you should see the superstellar Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

What??? Are you suggesting that when I hang art on Vleeptron, it's not every bit as gorgeous as the original???

I'm dying to see this little museum in NYC. Only 200,000 ppl per year have been enjoying it up to now, and I never heard of it before this. One painting, and the human and historical story behind it, suddenly makes the museum's reputation. Lines around the block. That is so great.

Blogger Jim Olson said...

Hmm. I'd put a caveat on that. Not all great art is forced into the public sphere. There are still several major works of art stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum here in Boston that have not turned up...that is the other side of Great Art. If you find yourself in posession of art that you didn't exactly buy, like the Mona Lisa, showing it becomes a bit problematic. It's hoped and believed by police in the Netherlands that these paintings will turn up in a warehouse somewhere.


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