Women artists



Friday is Top day! Every alternate Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. This week’s topic is the 10 best auction results for female artists over the last year.

Criticised in the 1970s by the art historian Linda Nochlin, then studied in the 1980’s in the famous work by Raymonde Moulin (L’artiste, l’institution et le marché, Paris, Flammarion, 1992), the inferior situation of women in the art world still prevails today. This inequality is anchored to the foundations of the art market and only time will change it.
While the recent world record for a version of Edvard MUNCH’s The Scream stands at $107m, the all-time auction record for a female artist is just $9.6m (Natalia Goncharova’s Les Fleurs).Although women are very under-represented at the top end of auction rankings, we take a look at the best auction results for women over the last 12 months.
The entry ticket to this Top 10 is $4m and only five artists have passed that threshold. Amongs those who made it into the Top 10, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell, Tamara de Lempicka et Nathalie Gontcharova are no surprises, all of them being modern, prestigious signatures that have been widely celebrated with 7-figure results. An unexpected newcomer to this ranking is Cady Noland, an American artist born in 1956 (youngest artist in this ranking), setting her record with the $5.8m Oozewald sold for on 9 November 2011 at Sotheby’s New York.

Top 10 : Results for Women artists (June 2011- June 2012)

Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Louise BOURGEOIS $9500000 Spider (1996) 11/08/2011 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
2 Joan MITCHELL $8250000 Untitled (c.1960) 11/09/2011 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
3 Tamara DE LEMPICKA $7500000 Le rêve (Rafaëla sur fond vert) (1927) 11/02/2011 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
4 Joan MITCHELL $6200000 Salut Sally (1970) 05/08/2012 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
5 Tamara DE LEMPICKA $5838840 La dormeuse (1930) 06/22/2011 (Sotheby’s LONDON)
6 Cady NOLAND $5800000 Oozewald (1989) 11/09/2011 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
7 Nathalie GONTCHAROVA $5600000 « Street in Moscow » (1909) 11/01/2011 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
8 Tamara DE LEMPICKA $4800000 Nu adossé I (1925) 05/02/2012 (Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY)
9 Tamara DE LEMPICKA $4200000 Idylle (Le Départ) (1931) 11/01/2011 (Christie’s NEW YORK NY)
10 Nathalie GONTCHAROVA $4074720 Still Life (Bluebells) 05/28/2012 (Sotheby’s LONDON)

Our ranking begins and ends with two of Louise BOURGEOIS’s famous spider sculptures. On 8 November 2011, at Christie’s New York, her giant Spider (1996) fetched $9.5m, the highest price in this ranking and a new record for the artist whose previous best records was less than half that price at $4.02m (Spider (2003), Christie’s Paris, May 27, 2008). However the result was logical since the giant Spider was 6 metres high compared with just one metre for her 2008 record! The work in 10th place in this ranking, her Spider III (1995), sold for $4m at Christie’s New York on May 8, 2012, which was $5.58m less. Once again the price differential was a question of size: it was also only 1 metre. If all these Spiders weave a complex web of sales results for Louise Bourgeois, the reality is much simpler. The Spiders are her most sought-after works, not just because of their dimensions (her largest works) but also because they are the most emblematic of the artist’s oeuvre. She started creating them in the early 90s, and they symbolize the reassuring presence of a loving mother who died when the artist was only 21 years. They become an obsession for the artist and, as of 2005, they generated some of her best auction results. Indeed there are six Spiders in her personal 10 best-ever results.

The 2nd and 4th places in the ranking are occupied by the abstract works of the American artist Joan MITCHELL , and both results ($8.25m for Untitled at Sotheby’s New York, 9 November 2011 and $6.2m for Salut Sally at Christie’s New York, 8 May 2012) beat her previous record of $6.19m for http://web.artprice.com/ps/artitem/?id=4319049 at Christie’s Paris, 30 May 2007. Joan Mitchell was one of the greatest abstract painters of the 20th century. Between 1950 and 1958, she worked in New York alongside Willem DE KOONING, Louis Edmond POMEY and Claude MONET, and yet her record is much lower than their peaks. Indeed her $8.25m is pale in comparison to Willem De Kooning’s $24.2m (Sans Titre, Christie’s New York, 15 November 2006) or Jackson Pollock’s $20.5m (Untitled XXV, Christie’s New York, 8 May 2012). Deeply inspired by nature, her work has often been compared to the later works of Claude MONET, those executed at Giverny, where Joan Mitchell actually lived as of 1967. With a very upscale market, her oil paintings are not accessible for less than $500,000; however, her rare drawings find buyers at less than $15,000. For example Number 28 fetched $13,000 on 9 March 2012 at Sotheby’s New York.

The rare masterpieces by Tamara DE LEMPICKA generally fetch million-plus results. In its “new records” race with Christie’s, Sotheby’s managed to find several of these rarities over the past 12 months. As her auction record had not been revised since 2009 ($5.4m for Untitled), the sale of these works generated a lot of enthusiasm. In June 2011 Sotheby’s sold Portrait de Madame M. for the equivalent of $5.8m and in November 2011 it sold Nu adossé I for $7.5m. These are the artist’s two best-ever results and they give her the 3rd and 5th places in this Top. Indeed, the year was particularly active for Tamara de Lempicka since her Idylle (Le Départ) fetched $4.8m (Sotheby’s, New York, 2 May 2012) and Pomme dans une coupe fetched $4.2m (Christie’s New York, 1 November 2011) giving, her respectively the 7th and 8th places in this ranking.As usual with Tamara de Lempicka, these latest 7-figure results were generated by her nudes and portraits from the 1930’s. Her rare still lifes or abstract compositions sell for less than $60,000. For example her Composition abstraite was acquired for $57,000 at Sotheby’s in London on 9 February 2012 and her Street in Moscow fetched $30,000 at Christie’s in New York on 20 September 2011.

With a market restricted by the rarity of the masterpieces offered, Nathalie GONTCHAROVA’s overall price index has shown no upward movement. Nevertheless, her popularity regularly prompts auction houses to offer minor works by the artist (on the whole poor quality etchings and drawings), a significant proportion of which remain unsold. In 2011, of the 102 lots offered, 33 were bought in and 32 fetched less than $10,000. In fact, Goncharova’s market is quite extreme, with almost no mid-range (since 1997, only 10% of her works have sold between $30,000 and $78,000), leaving a widening gap between her cheap works and her expensive works. However, her high-quality works generate strong results: Natalia Goncharova has 16 auction results above the million-dollar line to her name, including her masterpiece Les fleurs which fetched more than $9.6m in 2008 (Christie’s London, June 24). That was the global best-ever result for a female artist … and the record still stands! Although, unlike the other three artists in this Top, Goncharova has not renewed her auction record over the past 12 months, she has nevertheless signed good results such as $5m for La dormeuse (Sotheby’s New York, 1 November 2011) and $4m for Le Rêve (Rafaëla sur fond vert) (Sotheby’s London, 26 November 2011), giving her the 6th and 9th places in this Top respectively.

Despite the very substantial under-representation of women at the top end of auction rankings, the latest auction records suggest that the market for female artists is improving and hence that attitudes are gradually changing.