For 18 years, the art world has sorely missed a beautiful portrait by the modern artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) that was stolen from the Galleria d’Arte Moderna Piacenza. The chances for the work’s return seemed bleak, until a few weeks ago.
Known for his breathtakingly beautiful paintings of provocative females amidst a cacophony of colorful patterning and gold leaf, Gustav Klimt occupies a position as one of the most influential and well-known artists of the Vienna Secession — and indeed modern art. Unfortunately, as a result of the iconoclastic visions of Adolf Hitler during World War II, in addition to bombings and accidental fires, several of Klimt’s works have been destroyed, making his original works incredibly rare and significant.
In February of 1997, the stunning “Portrait of a Lady,” circa 1916, disappeared from the Galleria d’Arte Moderna Piacenza in Italy. The work displays Klimt’s characteristic expressiveness and exquisite coloring and patterning. The female subject, shown in half-length, sits in profile but turns her face toward the viewer. At first glance her gaze appears to meet ours, but closer consideration suggests she may be peering just beyond the viewer’s position. The subject’s dark maroon and black hair contrasts sharply with her milky-white skin, which blushes with intensity around the cheeks. The sitter’s dress is barely representational, but Klimt has provided just enough for legibility. The garment recalls a Japanese kimono, which would come as no surprise, given Klimt’s profound love for Japanese art and culture. The refinement of the subject’s face also demands lengthy consideration as it diverges from the fluid, expressive, and loose brushwork of the green background and textured kimono.
With fingers crossed, this lovely painting has a chance of being returned, for a price, of course. According to Der Standard in Austria, an unknown Italian man identifying himself as a retired art thief has offered to return the work unharmed if his ransom of $163,000 is met. Although authorities have refused to pay the sum, several art institutions have proclaimed their willingness to gather the funds.
To learn more, visit ArtNet.
This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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