Do you need to ID the sitter in a portrait painting? A current headline in the online newspaper Artdaily is prompting the question: “For sale: A rare Gustave Klimt portrait, valued at $32 million. But of whom?”

Does it matter?

Does it matter that, say, the Mona Lisa pictures Lisa del Giocondo? To her husband, who commissioned the work, sure. But to the viewing public? Isn’t the key to a painting what it imparts?

Consider the Dutch portraits of the 17th century for the moment. There’s no record of the sitters’ identities. They stare out at us with little facial expressions.

Yet, their likenesses carry a ton of information about who they were and even what they cared about, which, as it turns out, makes them effigies of their time.

The huge amount of detail that Dutch patrons of portrait painters demanded, the focus on their wardrobe and accessories - the minute renderings of lace, satin and brocade - tell us that they were the proud nouveau riche, the Netherland’s new mercantile class that commissioned artists to capture their worldly goods.

Showing off

Unlike portraits of clerics and of kings, the Dutch burghers wanted to show off things like the embroidery on the bodice of their heavily bejeweled selves. They were the goblin mode of materialism.

All that said, Artdaily’s “but of whom” question in the Klimt portrait makes no sense for another reason.

Klimt has painted other portraits without naming the sitters. I’m thinking of “Woman with a Fan,” which sold last year at Sotheby’s in London for $108.4 million.

Clearly, the fact that Klimt’s portrait in the news now is unfinished accounts for why it is valued at fewer millions than “Woman with a Fan.” But wait, there’s yet another reason - a far bigger reason - that the “but of whom” question doesn’t apply.- -

According to the BBC, the woman in this painting is not a mystery.

She is Fraulein Lieser (Margarethe). Art historians Tobias Natter and Alfred Weidinger believe the painting depicts Margarethe Constance Lieser, the daughter of Adolf Lieser.

Then there’s Klimt expert, Tobias G. Natter, author of the 2023 Book “Gustav Klimt: Interiors,” who attributes the likeness to Fraulein Lieser based on information given by her sister-in-law.

Even the Viennese auction house selling the work provided a name saying she was one of the two daughters of Justus Lieser and his wife Henriette, who was known for favoring modern art.

What does it mean?

OK, now that we have all that who-is-it question out of the way, the better question is, what does this portrait impart? Margarethe is dolled up the way other women in Klimt’s pictures are – in a sumptuously decorative robe.

The lavish embellishments usually serve to intensify sensuality.

But it’s not sensuality that you see. Margarethe Lieser says by her staring straight at us and her arms straight at her side that she doesn’t want to be in the painting. Unlike Klimt’s other portraits of women, she’s comes off as the unwilling subject.

Compare Margarethe’s portrait to that of Klimt’s “Adele Bloch-Bauer,” who is similarly envisioned in ornamental profusion and looks downright hedonistic. Instead, this Lieser daughter gives the impression that she doesn’t want to be in the picture by looking downright bored.