Portrait of a Lady

How Gustav Klimt's masterpiece returned to the Ricci Oddi Gallery

By Belvedere

Galleria d'arte moderna Ricci Oddi, Piacenza

Portrait of a Lady (1916/1917) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

Dated between 1916 and 1917, Gustav Klimt's Portrait of a Lady belongs to the late activity of the artist. By that time, Klimt had abandoned the shiny gilded decorations characteristic of his so-called 'Golden Phase' to adopt a less precious style. The almost abrupt brushstrokes defining his late works reveal a more emotional approach influenced by Expressionism.

The painting was purchased in 1925 by the Piacenza aristocrat, Giuseppe Ricci Oddi, for his private collection. Like all his other works of art, it was eventually included into the Art Gallery he donated to his native city, which opened to the public in 1931.

Portrait of a Girl (ca. 1910) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

The Portrait is actually painted over another painting that Klimt had made around 1910. This discovery is due to the brilliant intuition of a Piacenza high school student, Claudia Maga, who in 1996 noticed that the work in the Ricci Oddi Gallery was remarkably similar to another Klimt painting, which was then thought to have been lost and was known only through a photographic reproduction.

Ms Maga's insight put in motion the process that eventually confirmed that Klimt had created the Ricci Oddi work by painting over a previous portrait of a young woman, whose outfit he devoted particular attention to modify. 

But the adventurous life of the painting was not over, as some shocking turns of events were to demonstrate. On February 22nd, 1997, during the preparation of an exhibit, the painting disappeared, stolen in circumstances that were never fully clarified.


A few days later, its frame was found on the roof of the Gallery, left close to a skylight, possibly in an attempt to mislead the investigators. In the following years, the police continued to investigate. There would be no dearth of self-styled informants, mythomaniacs, spiritualists, extortionists, dubious confessions…

Portrait of Gustav Klimt in profile facing right, Moriz Nähr, c. 1916, From the collection of: Wien Museum
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Almost twenty-three years passed before the painting reappeared. The circumstances of its finding were even more enigmatic than those of its disappearance. On December 10th, 2019, some gardeners, while clearing ivy from the external wall of the Gallery, found a plast bag in an unlocked shed adjacent to the Gallery.

Inside the bag there was a painting: it is Klimt's Portrait of a Lady. The tests carried out in the following months would confirm its authenticity. On November 28th, 2020, the painting was returned to its home in the Ricci

Credits: Story

Provided by the Galleria d'arte moderna Ricci Oddi, Piacenza for the Gustav Klimt online retrospective Klimt vs. Klimt - The Man of Contradictions

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