Portrait of a Lady

GUSTAV KLIMT

1862 – 1918

Oil Painting 1917

63 x 55 centimeters

Value at Time of Theft: $4 million

THE ARTIST

Born in Austria, Gustav Klimt is considered to be the preeminent champion of Art Nouveau.  Most of his famous works feature a highly eroticized woman, typically described as ‘femme fatale’. Although his paintings are erotic, they are also extremely elegant, colorful and highly decorated. He often used gold leaf.

The Klimt painting titled The Kiss is one of the most well known images; so much so that not only are there posters, postcards, reproductions, but also a 100 euro collectable gold coin, which carries its image.

Even though Portrait of a Lady is not one of Klimt’s most famous works it is an excellent example of his style.  It uses his signature elements — the sinuous, erotic treatment of a woman and opulent surfaces that reference Byzantine mosaics.  The surface of the painting also exhibits Klimt’s master brushwork.  The background is a lush green that recalls nature and fertile spring time, the woman is painted with a gaze of longing directed at the viewer, and her flushed cheeks and lips could easily bring to mind a period of post-sexual contact.

Her dress is luxurious and loosely wrapped around her. It could easily be taken off or have just been thrown on. It is a painting of a woman that the artist admires in a very erotic and desirous way.

Klimt’s most expensive work, titled Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, sold at auction for just under $88 million.

THE THEFT

Owned by the Galleria Ricci Oddi, Piacenza, in Italy. On 18 February 1997, the gallery was being renovated.  One afternoon, while the renovation was taking place someone opened a skylight in the roof, dropped a fishing line into the gallery and hooked the painting off the wall.

Even though the theft took place on the 18th of February, it was days before people noticed that the painting was missing and had been stolen. And that was only after they found an empty frame on the roof of the building. Since that day, the painting has not been seen or heard of.