Gertrud Loew, known as Gertha, was nineteen years old when she was painted by Gustav Klimt in 1902. The painting was commissioned by her father Dr Anton Loew, at the time one of the most celebrated physicians in Vienna. The Loew family lived in a palatial residence adjoining the Sanatorium Loew – the largest and grandest private sanatorium in fin-de-siècle Vienna. This thriving hospital enabled the Loew family to join society’s elite and give commissions to some of the most important artists of the day. Anton Loew became one of the first benefactors of the Secession movement, co-sponsoring the building of the Secession. In addition to Klimt, Hodler and Segantini, Loew collected antiques, baroque and renaissance art.
In 1903 Gertha married Hans Eisler von Terramare in the Minoritenkirche in Vienna. Dr Anton Loew commissioned Koloman Moser to decorate and design their flat in the Wiener Werkstätte style. After the early death of the couple’s only daughter Gertrude, the marriage fell apart. Gertha moved back into the family residence on Pelikangasse and took over the running of the Sanatorium after Dr Anton Loew’s death in 1907. In 1912 she married the Hungarian industrialist Elemér Baruch von Felsőványi with whom she had three children. In November 1923 her husband caught pneumonia returning from a nightclub without an overcoat and died a few days later. Gertha continued to run the Sanatorium and her portrait by Klimt stood on an easel in the hallway of her private residence.
When the Nazis arrived in Vienna, Gertha, encouraged by her lawyer, moved to more modest accommodation. She came under increasing pressure due to her Jewish ancestry and reluctantly agreed to leave Vienna for exile in the United States in early 1939. Before she left, she entrusted her artworks to a friend for safekeeping. Although her son Anthony was already living in America, Gertha was denied an entry visa and was not allowed to disembark when she docked in New York harbour; it was only through the intercession of Eleanor Roosevelt that she was allowed a day pass to spend Christmas 1939 with her son. She continued her journey to Colombia and spent time as a French teacher in Barranquilla while she waited for the grant of a US visa. In June 1940 she arrived in the USA where she started a new life, working nightshifts. When Gertha’s daughter Maria returned to Vienna after the war to reclaim her family’s property she discovered that her mother’s friend – herself under duress by persecution – had sold off the entire Felsőványi collection. The Felsőványi family was not able to retrieve a single work of art. Having learned about the losses of her father’s legacy, Gertha Felsőványi never returned to Austria. She died in Menlo Park, California in March 1964 at the age of 80.
Unbeknownst to the Felsőványi family, the portrait of Gertha had been acquired by Gustav Ucicky, one of Gustav Klimt’s sons by Maria Ucicky who had modeled for the artist. Gustav Ucicky was a film director who rose to prominence during the Weimar Republic. Eventually, he started to build a considerable collection of works by his father, which he left to his wife Ursula after his death in 1961. In 2013, Frau Ursula Ucicky established the Klimt Foundation, housing the collection of artworks by Klimt left behind by her late husband. The portrait of Gertha is sold pursuant to a settlement between the Felsőványi family and the Klimt Foundation under the Washington Conference Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art.