Oprah Winfrey would have sold a Klimt painting for US$150 million

The art world is feeling Oprah Winfrey’s Midas touch. The billionaire entrepreneur sold a Gustav Klimt painting for $150 million in one of the largest private art transactions of 2016, according to a source with knowledge of the transaction.

Winfrey, chief executive of the Oprah Winfrey Network television channel, acquired the painting “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II” in 2006 for $87.9 million at a Christie’s auction in New York – also a record figure for the Austrian artist. Since then, its value has increased around 71%.

The work is the second major Klimt work to change hands since the art market began to contract. Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev sold “Water Serpents II” (1904-1907) privately for $170 million in November 2015, according to Sandy Heller, Rybolovlev’s art consultant.

Both Klimt paintings left for Asia, where growing wealth has spawned a growing network of collectors eager to augment their art holdings with Western masterpieces.

“Klimt is on some people’s list,” said Grace Rong Li, who advises Asian collectors on Western modern and contemporary art. The appeal of the artist, known for his gold-toned painting “The Kiss,” is both aesthetic and financial, she added.

“Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II,” from 1912, depicts a woman in a long, narrow robe and a halo-like black hat, standing before a background decorated in mauve and green. The woman, Bloch-Bauer, was the wife of a Jewish industrialist and patron of the arts from Vienna.

Geffen Connection In 2014, Winfrey lent the painting anonymously to the Museum of Modern Art for five years, according to the source, who asked not to be identified because the information is confidential. The loan was arranged by entertainment mogul David Geffen, a friend of Winfrey and a benefactor of the museum, the source said.

Last year, while the Klimt was hanging in MoMA’s fifth-floor galleries, Winfrey was contacted through Geffen by Larry Gagosian, an art dealer who knew a potential buyer, the source said. Winfrey was willing to sell it for $150 million, according to the source.

Before selling the work to an unnamed Chinese buyer over the summer, Winfrey agreed to temporarily loan it to the Neue Galerie for the exhibition “Klimt and the Women of Vienna’s Golden Age, 1900–1918,” which ran from 22 September to January 16.

The painting was part of a Nazi loot and returned by the Austrian government to Bloch-Bauer’s heirs in 2006. The legal battle over the works inspired the 2015 film “Lady in Gold,” starring Helen Mirren.

Two shots of treasure included two formal portraits of Bloch-Bauer by Klimt.

The painting that Winfrey sold will be displayed with her predecessor at the Neue Galerie, billionaire Ronald Lauder’s private museum, in New York until July.

Lauder paid $135 million in 2006 for “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I,” at the time the highest price for a work of art, and the 1907 gilded painting became the museum’s crown jewel.