Where in the world is this ghostly Klimt portrait?
Scholar and sleuth Noah Charney takes us on the hunt for lost, stolen and destroyed art in The Museum of Lost Art
According to Noah Charney's new book, The Museum of Lost Art, during the Iraqi conflict of 2003 some 15,000 pieces of important art disappeared from the National Museum of Baghdad. and sadly, we’re all familiar with the destruction and looting of ancient artefacts by al-Quaeda and ISIL in Afghanistan and Syria.
However, we might be less familiar with the appropriation of more modern artworks closer to home. Chraney details one particular portrait of a little lost girl, which was itself lost to the ravages of war.
“During the Second World War, much art, particularly but not exclusively that owned by Jewish families in Europe, was sold to fund escape, or was confiscated on spurious grounds,” Charney writes. “Those with status can be cast down, families may flee or be forced into exile, and this means that art, like people, may simply disappear.
“Such was the case for an ethereal painting by Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Trude Steiner – an early work from 1898, before Klimt became the toast of Viennese society. Jenny Steiner, mother of the girl portrayed, fled Vienna in 1938, just after the Nazis took control of the city on 12 March. The painting was seized, ostensibly in lieu of tax payments, though there is no record of whether the Steiners indeed owed anything; it is unlikely that they did.
Such pretenses were a common Nazi tactic to take things they had targeted. The painting’s path after its seizure is cloudy, but it was sold at auction in April 1941 and has not been seen since. This ghost of a painting is all the more haunting as it was a posthumous portrait of young Trude, shown aged thirteen – a ghost of a ghost.”
To discover more about great works of lost, order a copy of The Museum of Lost Art here.