A landscape painting by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt that had been stolen by the Nazis is expected to fetch more than $25 million when it is sold at auction next month, Sotheby's said on Thursday.
"Litzlberg on the Attersee," which was returned to the heirs of its Austrian owner, will be the main attraction at the Nov. 2 sale of Impressionist and Modern Art in New York.
"Klimt's landscapes are now considered to be one of the great icons of modern art," Simon Shaw, Sotheby's New York head of Impressionist and Modern Art, said in an interview.
"They are one of the most recognizable images and their appeal is truly a global one."
The work gained international attention earlier this year when Austria's Museum der Moderne Salzburg agreed to return the work to George Jorisch, the grandson of its owner. The decision followed a 2002 accord struck with Jewish organizations and the Salzburg city government to return assets stolen by the Nazis.
Jorisch, who now lives in Montreal, is the great-nephew of Austrian iron magnate Viktor Zuckerkandl, who was a great collector of Klimt landscapes. When he died in 1927 the work was inherited by his sister Amalie Redlich, Jorisch's grandmother.
Redlich was deported in 1941 to the Nazi created Lodz ghetto in Poland and never heard from again. Her art collection was seized by the Nazis, sold and ended up in the Austrian museum.
"People love a picture with a story behind it," Shaw said. "It always adds desirability when there is a story behind a painting."
Klimt painted the work in 1915, displaying a dramatic view of the countryside of Lake Attersee in western Austria, where he spent his summers.
"These landscape paintings were very affectionate to Klimt," Shaw said. "He left Vienna and his patrons and would paint these for himself. They were very daring because he explored different techniques that were very radical."
The experimentation Klimt showed in his landscapes makes them some of the most important and influential of his works and among the rarest.
"Few remain in private collections outside Austria which could ever be sold," Shaw explained.
Klimt's "Church in Cassone — Landscape with Cypresses," sold in February 2010 for $43 million in London, a record for a Klimt landscape.
"It is possible it could go into a great Asian collection," Shaw said about the painting on sale. "It is also possible that it could go into a great European collection. It has a genuine global appeal."