Top 10 Most Expensive Artworks by Female Artists in Auction History
On the evening of November 15, 2023, Sotheby's New York conducted its Fall evening sales, yielding $305.7 million, contributing significantly to the cumulative New York Sales week, which, thus far, has reached an impressive $1.1 billion. The occasion marked the establishment of ten new artist auction records, characterized by fervent bidding, notably for works by esteemed female artists such as Julie Mehretu (b. 1970), Joan Mitchell (1925 - 1992), and Georgia O'Keeffe (1887 - 1986). One of the artists records was achieved by Julie Mehretu with her painting, "Walkers With the Dawn and Morning" (2008), realizing a sale value of $10.7 million. This notable transaction positions Mehretu's work as the most expensive artwork ever sold by an African-born artist and elevates her to second place among living female artists with the highest auction sales, following Jenny Saville.
Although the current roster of the most expensive artists at auction, fetching individual prices over $100 million, doesn't feature any women, there is a discernible surge in the demand for works by female artists, resulting in elevated prices at auctions. In this article, we'll discuss the ten most expensive artworks by female artists ever sold at auction.
10. Barbara Hepworth, "The Family of Man: Ancestor II" (1974) - $11.6 million
Barbara Hepworth, "The Family of Man: Ancestor II" (1974). Image courtesy of Christie's.
Barbara Hepworth's (1903 - 1975) bronze sculpture, "The Family of Man: Ancestor II," claimed the ninth position on our list. Auctioned at Christie's in November 2023 for $11.6 million, this work solidified Hepworth's position as a sculptor of unparalleled vision, marking a record-setting moment for the British artist.
9. Lee Krasner, "The Eye is the First Circle" (1960) - $11.6 million
Lee Krasner, "The Eye is the First Circle" (1960). Image courtesy of Sotheby's.
In the eighth spot, Lee Krasner's (1908 - 1984) dynamic "The Eye is the First Circle" made waves when it fetched $11.6 million at auction in 2019. Often overshadowed by her marriage to Jackson Pollock, Krasner finally claimed her rightful place as a pioneer of action painting, challenging stereotypes and leaving an indelible mark on the art world.
8. Jenny Saville, "Propped" (1992) - $12.4 million
Jenny Saville, "Propped" (1992). Image courtesy of Sotheby's.
Jenny Saville (b. 1970), the most expensive living female artist at auction, secures the seventh position with her captivating oil painting, "Propped." Sotheby's witnessed history in November 2018 as the work sold for $12.4 million, underscoring Saville's commitment to challenging conventional notions of female beauty on monumental canvases.
7. Agnes Martin, "Grey Stone II" (1961) - $18.7 million
Agnes Martin, "Grey Stone II" (1961). Image courtesy of Sotheby's.
Abstract minimalist Agnes Martin's (1912 - 2004) "Grey Stone II" soared into the sixth spot, achieving a remarkable $18.7 million at Sotheby's in November 2023. This rare composition, one of just five where Martin employed gold leaf in her iconic grids, captivated discerning collectors and reaffirmed her status as an artistic trailblazer.
6. Tamara de Lempicka, "Portrait of Marjorie Ferry" (1932) - $21.2 million
Tamara de Lempicka, "Portrait of Marjorie Ferry" (1932). Image courtesy of Christie's.
The timeless allure of Tamara de Lempicka's (1898 - 1980) art reached new heights when her "Portrait of Marjorie Ferry" became the fifth most expensive artwork by a woman at auction. This sumptuous oil on canvas, painted in 1932, fetched an impressive $21.2 million, testifying to Lempicka's chic and inimitable style.
5. Joan Mitchell, "Sunflowers" (1990-91) - $27.9 million
Joan Mitchell, "Sunflowers" (1990-91). Image courtesy to Sotheby's.
In a resounding testament to the enduring legacy of American Abstract Expressionist, Joan Mitchell (1925 - 1992), history once again unfolded at Sotheby's New York Contemporary Evening Auction. Mitchell's oil on canvas painting, "Sunflowers" (1990-91), achieved a groundbreaking sale at $27.9 million on the evening of November 15, 2023. The gestural exuberance within this artwork engages in a spirited dialogue with the Abstract Expressionists, showcasing Mitchell's unique artistic language. Rooted in her profound, lifelong appreciation for the beauty of the natural world, "Sunflowers" not only captivates with its vibrant strokes but also stands as a testament to Mitchell's enduring influence. This remarkable piece, part of The Collection of John Cheim, had been acquired as a gift from the artist in 1992 by the present owner, adding an extra layer of significance to its journey through the art world.
4. Joan Mitchell, "Untitled" (circa 1959) - $29.1 million
Joan Mitchell, "Untitled" (circa 1959). Image courtesy of Christie's.
Securing a distinguished position as the fourth most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, Joan Mitchell (1925 - 1992), stands triumphant with her emotionally charged masterpiece, "Untitled" (circa 1959). In November 2023, this extraordinary work, marked by gripping shades of crimson, purple, khaki green, and deep blue, garnered an astounding $29.1 million, establishing a remarkable personal record for the esteemed artist.
3. Louise Bourgeois, "Spider" (1996) - $32 million
Louise Bourgeois, "Spider" (1996). Image courtesy of Christie's.
Louise Bourgeois (1911 - 2010), a pioneer in contemporary sculpture, claims the third spot with her hauntingly beautiful "Spider." This iconic work, characterized by threatening poise and maternal symbolism, set a record for the most expensive sculpture by a contemporary female artist, selling for an awe-inspiring $32 million in 2019.
2. Frida Kahlo, "Diego y yo" (1949) - $34.9 million
Frida Kahlo, "Diego y yo" (1949). Image courtesy of Sotheby's.
Frida Kahlo (1907 - 1954), the iconic Mexican artist, secures the second position with her deeply personal "Diego y yo." In a moment of marital upheaval, this last self-portrait from the 1940s, featuring Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera, quadrupled her standing artist record, fetching an extraordinary $34.9 million at Sotheby's in November 2021.
1. Georgia O'Keeffe, "Jimson Weed / White Flower no. 1" (1932) - $44.4 million
Georgia O'Keeffe, "Jimson Weed / White Flower no. 1" (1932). Image courtesy of Sotheby's.
Topping the list is the legendary Georgia O'Keeffe (1887 - 1986), whose "Jimson Weed / White Flower no. 1" not only secured her status as the most expensive female artist but did so with a resounding $44.4 million at Sotheby's in 2014. O'Keeffe's ability to render flowers and plants in lush colors and zoomed-in forms captivated collectors, cementing her as an enduring force in the art world.
While it is heartening to witness an increasing comfort among collectors in investing in artworks by female artists, there exists a poignant opportunity to further impact the art market. By actively supporting artists during their lifetimes, collectors can contribute significantly to the artists' creative endeavors and witness the fruits of their talent flourish. If you share an interest in acquiring art by emerging female artists and aspire to play a role in shaping the contemporary art landscape, I invite you to contact me. I am delighted to offer guidance and assistance in discovering the finest works by contemporary emerging female artists. Together, we can contribute to fostering a vibrant and equitable art community that champions the diverse voices of talented creators.
Who's to say, perhaps one of the budding artists you acquire today holds the potential to ascend to the ranks of the most coveted and expensive artists ever to grace the auction stage in the years that lie ahead.
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