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New York Museum Exhibits World's Most Expensive Painting

The world's most expensive painting is now on exhibit in New York's Neue Galerie. The head of the small museum purchased the exotic Gustav Klimt painting less than one month ago for what experts say is a record amount of $135 million. The purchase followed a long restitution battle between the Austrian government and the heirs to the original owner, a victim of Nazism.

Klimt's gold-flecked portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer is a star in the world of art, appearing on calendars, coffee mugs, and posters. Klimt painted it in 1907 after a visit to Ravenna, Italy, where he was influenced by Byzantine mosaics. When he returned to Vienna he turned out a series of oil paintings in what became known as his Golden Style, using gold leaf and geometric patterns in lustrous backgrounds and bejeweled figures.

Klimt spent three years painting arts patron Adele Bloch Bauer's portrait, one of his best-known works.

Museum director Renee Price says the painting will be the centerpiece of the five-year old museum's collection. The Neue Galerie, which focuses on the art of Austria and Germany from 1890 until 1940, has the largest Klimt collection in the Untied States.

"With the acquisition of Adele Bock Bauer One by Gustav Klimt, the Neue Galerie has added the largest jewel in its crown of its collection," said Renee Price. "This painting is nothing less than a masterpiece, a work that captures the very essence of the era in which it was created."

When Adele Bloch-Bauer died in 1925, she requested that her husband leave the painting and four other Klimt works to Austria upon his death. But Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer fled Austria for Switzerland in 1938, and the Nazi government confiscated his property.

The painting hung in Vienna's Belvedere Gallery for 60 years, where Klimt's works are major tourist attractions.

Bauer-Bloch's last surviving heir, 90-year-old Maria Altmann of Los Angeles, California, and other family members fought a restitution battle with the government of Austria for years. In January, an Austrian arbitration court decided in favor of the family, awarding Altmann five paintings, including Adele Bloch-Bauer 1, another portrait of the socialite and three landscapes.

Former US ambassador to Austria Ronald Lauder, co-founder of the Neue Galerie, supported the family in its quest for restitution. He says the restitution decision has long-term significance.

"I think it is a very important moment because these paintings and paintings throughout museums and private collections that were looted from Jewish homes are perhaps the last prisoners of World War II," said Ronald Lauder. "It is my belief that during the coming years many more pictures like this will be restituted to their owners."

Experts estimate that the other four paintings awarded to the heirs are worth $100 milllion. All five paintings are currently on exhibit at the museum, but the heirs have yet to decide on the fate of the other four.

Lauder cannot say how much he and a group of investors paid for the painting because of a legal agreement, but he has not denied reports by experts that it cost $135 million. In 2004, a Picasso sold at auction for $104 million, the highest price ever previously paid for a painting.