She lived alongside a super rich man and has invested his inheritance wisely. With the purchase of art, she proved she had the right instinct. In the end, Heidi Goëss-Horten was the richest Austrian.

For decades she had assembled an important art collection, but it was only in recent years that Heidi Goëss-Horten made it accessible to the public.

At the beginning of June, the private museum “Heidi Horten Collection” was opened in Vienna. Just a few days later, the collector and billionaire, widow of the former German department store king Helmut Horten (1909-1987), died unexpectedly on Sunday at the age of 81. She died in her house on Lake Wörthersee, as a spokeswoman for the museum confirmed to the German Press Agency.

Diverse commitment to art and sport

“It is with great regret and deep sadness that we have to report the completely unexpected death of our patron and founder Heidi Goëss-Horten,” the museum said in a statement. She will be remembered for her diverse commitment to art and sport.

Helmut Horten met the then secretary from Vienna in 1959 at Wörthersee and became his second wife. Her husband had laid the cornerstone of his fortune during the Nazi era, when he profited from the Nazis’ expropriation of the Jews. In early 2022, a report on her husband’s past commissioned by the widow was published. According to this, Horten was a beneficiary when he took over department stores from Jewish owners, but he did not promote the “Aryanization” at that time.

Helmut Horten developed his company into the fourth largest department store group in Germany – after Karstadt, Hertie and Kaufhof. In total, 50 department stores belonged to the Horten group at the beginning of the 1970s. With the sale of his department store empire at exactly the right time – in the late 1960s, early 1970s – Horten became a billionaire and saved 250 million marks in taxes by moving to Switzerland. Under the impression of this incident, which outraged the citizens, the Bundestag passed the “Lex Horten” and filled a loophole in tax law.

700 works from Klimt to Picasso to Warhol

After his death, the Austrian made collecting art her job. It was good timing because the art market in the 1990s offered extremely attractive prices for buyers. Her castle-like villa on Lake Wörthersee in Austria resembled a top-class art museum. Works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Paul Klee, Gerhard Richter, Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol embellished the everyday life of Heidi Goëss-Horten as wall decorations. She had used her husband’s inheritance extremely wisely. With around three billion euros, the art collector was the richest Austrian.

Her private collection comprises around 700 works, including paintings by German Expressionists such as Max Pechstein, Emil Nolde, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and August Macke. One of the most famous landscape paintings by the Art Nouveau painter Klimt, the “Church in Unterach am Attersee” from 1916, is one of them, as is Egon Schiele’s “Portrait of a Lady” from 1912, in which he immortalized his partner Wally Neuzil.

She showed a section of the collection to the public for the first time in 2018 in a show at Vienna’s Leopold Museum. The Horten Collection is linked to an auction coup in 1994 at Sotheby’s in London. At that time, the billionaire anonymously managed to auction 34 pictures of the very best quality. Including her declared favorite motif “Les Amoureux” (1916) by Marc Chagall.

She was also a member of the board of trustees of the Horten Foundation, founded by her husband in 1971, which supports medical institutions and research. Goëss-Horten, who owned one of the world’s largest yachts, the 100-meter-long “Carinthia VII”, was also involved in ice hockey as honorary president of the Klagenfurt athletic sports club. In 2015 she married Carl Anton “Kari” Goëss from a former noble family.