Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The portrait was originally looted by the Nazis during World War II.

February 09, 2017

U.S. entertainment tycoon Oprah Winfrey sold a Gustav Klimt painting to a Chinese buyer for $150 million, a source close to the transaction told Bloomberg, making it one of the largest private art deals of the year so far.

Winfrey initially bought the portrait, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II,” for $87.9 million at auction in 2006.

The nearly 4-foot by 6-foot painting, made in 1912, depicts Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of an Austrian Jewish sugar magnate, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer. The portrait is one of a pair commissioned by Adele’s husband, both exemplifying the signature symbolist style of Viennese painter Gustav Klimt.

 

 

After the Nazi regime annexed Austria in 1938, the Bloch-Bauers fled the city and both perished by 1945. The Nazis looted their belongings and stole both paintings. Given the Jewish surname of the portrait’s subject, the Nazis changed the name of the first portrait in the set simply to “The Woman in Gold,” and began displaying it in art shows.

Decades later in the late 90s and into the early 2000s, Adele Bloch-Bauer’s niece, Maria Altmann spent years in a prolonged legal battle to regain her aunt’s portrait from the Austrian government. The case became one of the most well-known sagas for Jewish art restitution, and it would become the fodder for the Helen Mirren film “Woman in Gold.”

During the hearings, Altmann at first told the Austrian government that she did not want to take the work back to her home in the U.S., and she demanded that the government recognize it had been stolen. They refused, and she eventually moved to bring the painting to New York City.

After Altmann won her case in 2006, Jewish philanthropist Ronald Lauder bought one of the paintings, “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” for $135 million in order to display it at the Neue Galerie in New York City, according to NPR.

Both portraits will be reunited in an exhibit at Neue Galerie this year before "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II" is shipped to its new owner in China.

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