Klimt’s mysterious lady with fan returns to Vienna after 100 years

Lady with Fan © Belvedere, Vienna / Markus Guschelbauer

One of Gustav Klimt’s presumed last paintings, Lady with Fan, will be on display at the Belvedere in Vienna from 25 March 2021 until 13 February 2022.

For the first part of the exhibition, the painting will be presented at the museum along with other unfinished artworks by the artist. The second part, which will be unveiled in October, will be dedicated to the influence of Japanese and Chinese art on Klimt’s later works.

The painting elicits impressions of exquisite elegance, wisdom and distance, all encapsulated by the woman’s barely perceptible smile. But who is the woman depicted by Klimt? What is certain is that she is not one of that era’s famous faces of Viennese high society, who were often painted by the renowned artist. It is believed that she is one of Klimt’s models, who also posed for other portraits done by him. Albeit unfinished, the artwork is immensely impactful with its vibrant colours. Curator Markus Fellinger sees similarities between the model’s seductive pose and tasteful tease of nudity, on the one hand, and the unabashed eroticism observed with Judith (from Klimt’s Judith and the Head of Holofernes oil painting), but notes that Lady with Fan reflects a shift in Klimt’s style towards Expressionism.

In the 1920s the painting was property of the Böhler family in Switzerland. According to information received days before the exhibition opening, Lady with Fan was last shown in Vienna in 1920, when it was presented by industrialist Erwin Böhler. It is presumed that Austrian art collector Rudolf Leopold bought the painting from the Böhler family in the 1950s.

In the early 1990s, the piece reemerged in the US, where it was auctioned off. In response, authorities launched an investigation into the illegal export of an artwork, but the case was eventually closed after investigators failed to track down the culprits. The painting’s current owner has been established to be unaware of its provenance and history.

In order for the painting to be displayed in Vienna after all these years, the government of Austria the step of guaranteeing the owner’s rights and vowing to return the artwork following the exhibition’s end.

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