For Sale: A Rare Klimt Portrait, Valued at $32 Million. But of Whom?

On Wednesday, an auction house in Europe will put a painting by Gustav Klimt up for sale, with a preauction estimate of at least 30 million euros (about $32 million).

Whoever buys it will obtain a painting by an artist whose major works rarely come up for sale, but also a portrait whose subject, provenance and current ownership are either unknown, not public or the subject of debate.

The auctioneer selling the painting is not an international heavyweight like Sotheby’s or Christie’s, but im Kinsky, a local house in Vienna whose biggest sale until now was in 2010: $6.1 million, for a painting by Egon Schiele.

At a news conference in January announcing the sale of the mysterious Klimt work, Ernst Ploil, the co-chief executive of im Kinsky, said: “All is in the dark. Whenever there is an argument for something, counterarguments arise again and again.”

Some of the debate centers on the identity of the young woman portrayed. Other questions have arisen about what happened to the artwork during the Anschluss, when Austria was annexed into the Third Reich.

The painting was owned by a Jewish family during that period, and there are no documents that record what happened to it during those years when Austria’s Jewish population was persecuted, deported and murdered and their possessions plundered by the Nazis.

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