Thursday, June 22, 2006

"Wilted Sunflowers," = $21.7 million

By Belinda GoldsmithThu Jun 22, 2:04 AM ET

A painting by Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele that was discovered after being missing for over 60 years has been snapped up by a private collector after making a brief public appearance.

New York art dealer and advisory firm Eykyn Maclean bought the painting, "Herbstsonne" or "Wilted Sunflowers," or "Autumn Sun II," inspired by Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers," which was one of a half a dozen Schiele pictures thought to have been destroyed in World War II, was sold this week at Christie's in London for more than $21 a Christie's auction in London.

This was almost double the estimated price for the painting, which was feared destroyed after being seized by the Nazis during World War Two.

Painted in 1914, the picture was bought by Mr. Grunwald, from Schiele whom he had befriended during World War One and helped by obtaining for him non-combat posts.

"An artist in the army is like a fish out of water," co-director of the Galerie St. Etienne in New York and author of the first comprehensive Schiele catalogue raisonne, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works, Jane Kallir, said. Mr. Grunwald "essentially allowed him to resume his career as an artist rather than serving as a soldier."

Schiele went on to paint an oil portrait of Mr. Grunwald, and watercolor portraits of his family.

According to Christie's, the painting was confiscated by the Germans in Strasbourg and was auctioned in 1942. The picture, considered to be one of Schiele's masterpieces, then disappeared.

Mr. Grunwald, who eventually found his way to America, spent much of his life trying to recover his art collection. Though he was only partially successful - he managed to recover the portrait Mr. Schiele painted of him - he could not find the "Herbstsonne" before his death in 1964, when the quest for his art was continued by his family.

Chris Eykyn, one of two former Christie's employees who set up Eykyn Maclean this year, said he acquired the painting on behalf of an anonymous European buyer who intended to keep the painting in his private collection.

"This painting is a true masterpiece, a really sophisticated and challenging picture, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The buyer now just wants to enjoy it," Eykyn told Reuters.

"It is one of the most important paintings by the artist in existence ... and its story is just extraordinary."

The painting was among a collection of about 50 paintings owned by Austrian art collector Karl Gruenwald that was confiscated by the Nazis in France and sold at auction in 1942.

Gruenwald unsuccessfully tried to find his collection after the war. He died in 1964 and attempts by one his sons to locate the paintings were also unsuccessful.

But in late 2005, Christie's was contacted by a person who had acquired a painting along with an apartment he had bought in France a few years earlier. He had no particular arts knowledge and wanted a routine valuation of the painting.

Christie's specialists were amazed to discover the painting was the lost masterpiece that was painted in 1914.

When the owner -- who remains anonymous -- realized the importance of the painting, he gave it back to Gruenwald's heirs. They put it up for auction.

The price tag makes it the second most expensive Schiele painting after the landscape "Krumauer Landschaft" which sold for $23.2 million in 2003.

Another painting seized by the Nazis -- a 1907 portrait by Gustav Klimt -- was bought by cosmetics magnate Ronald Lauder for $135 million, the highest amount ever paid for a painting, The New York Times said on Monday.

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