YOU’D LIKELY KNOW of Gustav Klimt through his most famed and gilded artwork, The Kiss — but it’s with one of his less famous works that he’s now made history.

The Austrian painter’s Lady with a Fan (Dame mit Fächer, originally) sold at auction on June 28 at Sotheby’s in London for a stunning £85.3 million — roughly AUD$162.7 million — making it the most expensive painting ever sold in Europe.

For those whose purse strings didn’t allow them to even entertain the idea of witnessing the auction, there was a 10-minute-long bidding war between four contenders, which saw the prices soar record-high, exceeding expectations of a £65 million sale. It was sold to Patti Wong, on behalf of a Hong Kong collector.

Before the sale, the most expensive piece of art sold at auction in Europe was Alberto Giacometti’s L’homme qui marche I (The Walking Man I). The eerily spindly sculpture sold at Sotheby’s London in 2010 for £65 million.

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Gustav Klimt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While less infamous than The Kiss, Lady with a Fan is still a pretty unique piece. The vibrantly hued portrait of an unnamed woman was his final painting, created in 1917, about a year before his untimely death aged 55; and it was still standing on an easel in his studio when he died in 1918. This was the painting’s first market appearance in 29 years — it last sold at Sotheby’s New York for US$11.6 million (about AUD$17.6 million) in 1994.

“Dame mit Fächer is the last portrait Klimt created before his untimely death, when still in his artistic prime and producing some of his most accomplished and experimental works,” said Helena Newman, the chair of Sotheby’s Europe, and Worldwide Head of Impressionist & Modern Art. “Many of those works — certainly the portraits for which he is best known — were commissions. This, though, is something completely different: a technical tour de force, full of boundary-pushing experimentation, as well as a heartfelt ode to absolute beauty.”

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