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  • How Ron Lauder Decided To Buy A $135 Million Painting
    16.06.2006 NEW YORK.
    By Lindsay Pollock (bloomberg)

    Museum Associates/Agence France-Presse - Getty Images A detail from Gustav Klimt's 1907 portrait "Adele Bloch-Bauer I."

    Speaking from his car in Jerusalem, Ronald S. Lauder, the cosmetics magnate and art collector, said he first glimpsed Gustav Klimt's 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch- Bauer as a teenager and wanted it ever since.

    The painter of Vienna's fin-de-siecle neurasthenic upper classes has surged back into favor during the past two decades. Lauder, who was en route to the World Zionist Congress, talked to me this morning about his expensive purchase, which key people close to the negotiations confirmed at $135 million.

    Lauder bought the shimmering picture for New York's Neue Galerie, of which he is co-founder and president. The portrait was among five Klimts returned to the heirs of the original owners, who had lost them to the Nazis in 1938 and fought for their return in a drawn-out court battle with the Austrian government.

    Lauder said the Klimt will be displayed over the fireplace in the Neue Galerie's special exhibition of all five returned Klimts that starts on July 13.

    Pollock: When did you become fascinated by Klimt?

    Lauder: I took a trip to Vienna as a teenager and saw Klimt's ``The Kiss'' and ``Bloch-Bauer.'' I found them absolutely stunning. Whenever I went back to Vienna, I visited them.

    Pollock: How long did it take you to decide to buy the Klimt?

    Lauder: Thirty seconds.

    Choosing a Favorite

    Pollock: If you had to take one picture to the next world, which might it be?

    Lauder: At this point, this would be it.

    Pollock: Are there many great Austrian works still available?

    Lauder: Of this quality? None. Of very good quality? Maybe a dozen.

    Pollock: How is the market for German and Austrian artwork different from that of other European art?

    Lauder: After World War II, many refugees took work out with them, and prices were always very low. It wasn't until the 1980s and 1990s that prices started to really go up. I started buying in the 1970s, when prices were low, but there were very few pieces avaiable. Now, as owners start to die, there is more available.

    Pollock: For the Klimt, how did you and the seller settle on a price?

    Lauder: The conversation lasted a minute. In the case of art, when something is priceless, you really don't negotiate about it.

    Pollock: Are you always this decisive?

    Lauder: Yes.

    Pollock: Does the money thing overshadow the painting, or does it bring it the proper amount of attention?

    Lauder: The money aspect has nothing to do with the painting. The painting is priceless. A few days ago I was in Paris and I went to see the Mona Lisa. How do you value that?