Weisses Interieur (White Interior) by Carl Moll (1861-1945) dates from 1905 and depicts the writer and art critic Berta Zuckerkandl-Szeps in her apartment in Döbling, Vienna. An important cultural figure who ran an influential salon, she was at the centre of an intellectual circle (she introduced Auguste Rodin to Gustav Klimt no less) and commissioned the renowned architect Josef Hoffmann to design the living room interior which appears in this picture.
With the combination of artist, subject and setting linking three giants of the Viennese avant garde, the work proved an exceptional commercial prospect, something aided further by its composition as well as its market freshness (it had been in the same family since it was acquired in Germany in the early 1920s).
Having not been seen in in public for over a century and with the vendors now living in California, the 3ft 3in (1m) square oil on canvas was estimated at $300,000-500,000 at Freeman’s on February 23. Twelve bidders competed for the lot, with international interest coming from Austria, Germany and the US.
It came down to a battle between two phone bidders, one from Austria and the other a US private collector, with the latter successful at $4m (£2.86m). ATG understands that the buyer intends to exhibit the work at the Neue Galerie in New York, a museum dedicated to German and Austrian 20th century art which includes works by fellow Secessionists Klimt and Otto Wagner as well as Hoffmann himself, in the near future.
The price was not only a major record for Moll, over 10 times the previous auction high (source: Artprice by Artmarket), but also the most expensive item ever sold at Freeman’s in its 215-year history.