Billionaire cosmetics magnate Ronald S. Lauder has reached an agreement with the descendants of Irene Beran regarding Gustav Klimt’s famous 1910 canvas The Black Feather Hat. Lauder has agreed to restitute the painting, which has resided in his collection for half a century, to the Berans and then to repurchase it from them. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed. The agreement follows years of collaborative investigation between the Beran heirs and Lauder aimed at discovering the work’s provenance.
Beran, born in 1886 and a resident of Brno, in what is now the Czech Republic, is documented as owning the painting in 1928 and possibly earlier. After she fled Europe in 1943, fearing Nazi persecution, the whereabouts of the painting became murky and remained so until 1957, when it was included in an exhibition in Stuttgart, Germany. The show was organized in part by Austrian art dealer Friedrich Welz, a former member of the Nazi Party. The work continued to be shown widely until 1973, when Lauder bought it from a New York gallery a few years before Beran died, in 1979. He continued to exhibit the painting himself, most recently in a 2019–20 group show at the New York’s Neue Gallery, which he owns.
The painting is notable in that it shows Klimt, a founder of the iconoclastic Vienna Secession, moving away from his earlier decorative paintings toward Expressionism, thanks in part to his friendship with fellow Austrian painter Egon Schiele, who was nearly three decades younger than himself. Lauder, who is president of the World Jewish Congress, noted in a statement that “while our joint research leaves gaps remaining, I have long championed the importance of restitution. In the spirit of the Washington Conference Principles, I felt it was of utmost importance to arrive at a just and fair solution that recognizes the family’s history with this painting.”
For their part, the Beran descendants through their lawyers acknowledged that Irene Beran, herself an avid art collector and supporter of contemporary Austrian and German artists, would have been “delighted” to learn that the painting had found a home in New York, where she once lived as a refugee.