Billionaire art collector Ronald Lauder has reached an agreement with the heirs of a Jewish woman regarding a Gustav Klimt painting. Maintaining ownership, Lauder has repurchased Klimt’s 1910 painting which has been in his collection for five decades, and restituted the artwork to the heirs of Irene Beran who owned it prior to World War II. Details of the purchase were not disclosed, according to the .
A sparse painting compared with Klimt’s highly decorative and colorful canvases, the work features a woman clad in a fitted dress with a fur around her neck and the painting’s subject, a black hat with a large plume sitting atop her coiffed hair.
Years of investigations into the provenance of the painting revealed that Beran owned the work in 1928, possibly earlier, but its whereabouts were unaccounted for beginning in 1934 when Beran, who was living in the city of Brno, now the Czech Republic, fled Europe fearing Nazi persecution. Beran and her husband moved to New York in 1947, but her mother and father-in-law were both murdered at the Theresienstadt concentration camp.
The painting resurfaced in 1957 at an exhibition in Stuttgart, Germany co-organized by Friedrich Welz, an Austrian art dealer who was a member of the Nazi party. Lauder purchased the work in 1973 at a New York City gallery, and has frequently exhibited it at the Upper East Side-based Neue Galerie, which he founded in 2001.
As the chairman of the Commission for Art Recovery and the president of the World Jewish Congress, Lauder is a staunch advocate for the recovery of looted art, once calling such works “the last prisoners of World War II.” However, he has been criticized in the past for not doing enough to look at his own holdings. Lauder enlisted Agnes Peresztegi, the president of the Commission for Art Recovery, to examine the Neue Galerie’s collections for any outstanding issues of provenance, and in 2016 Lauder announced that a work in the collection did in fact have a disputed history. The museum never released the name of that artwork.
Lauder began working with Beran’s family in 2018 based on the substantial gap in the work’s history during the war, and in a statement the family said that they were “confident that Irene would be delighted to know that found a home in New York, a city that had, at an important juncture in her refugee life, also been Irene’s home.”