The Women Artists Market Report 2023

Art Market

The Late Women Artists Garnering Art Market Attention

Ayanna Dozier
Mar 8, 2023 12:45PM

In 2022, we saw incredible strides for women artists across museum exhibitions, galleries, art fairs, and auctions. A prime example was the historic international exhibition at the 59th Venice Biennale, “The Milk of Dreams,” curated by Cecilia Alemani, in which just 10% of the 213 featured artists identified as male. Of the remaining 192 artists that identified as women and nonbinary, nearly half of them (89) were deceased women artists. The exhibition was emblematic of the dominant trends emerging over the past few years concerning late women artists, both institutionally and commercially.

At museums, we have seen an increase in late women artists receiving overdue surveys and retrospectives. Some notable examples include Hilma af Klint’s impressive 2018 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, and Tate Modern’s current two-person exhibition pairing the artist with Piet Mondrian; the groundbreaking Gego survey that recently closed at the Museo Jumex and opens at the Guggenheim this March; Lee Krasner’s 2019 exhibition at the Barbican; and Artemisia Gentileschi’s 2020 showing at the National Gallery, its first retrospective of a woman Baroque painter—to name a few.


These museum shows are proving to be an invaluable site of rediscovery for collectors and have spawned a critical conversation on why older or late women artists were overlooked across the 20th century. In step, late women artists’ legacies are being promoted at commercial galleries, and their works are fetching striking new sums at art fairs and auction houses.

For example, the highest reported sale at Art Basel in 2022 was not attributed to a Jean-Michel Basquiat nor a Jeff Koons, but rather a spider sculpture by Louise Bourgeois for $40 million. Though late women still lag behind their male counterparts, increased interest in women pioneers of the 20th century, including key figures of Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, have made serious strides in the past decade. Though gender parity is a ways away, auction results of the past few years bode well for change in the years to come.

Here, we look at the top auction sales from 2022 auctions overall; delve into the aforementioned subsets of the market; and spotlight three of the key late artists who had a major moment last year.

Key sales

Last year was a record for late women artists at auction. There has been a 109% rise in the total value of works sold at auction by late women artists between 2012 and 2022, from $228 million to $477 million.

In 2022, the height of this subset of the market to date, the top sales by late women artists went to works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Louise Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell, and Tamara de Lempicka. O’Keeffe’s White Rose with Larkspur No. I (1986), which sold for $26.7 million, leads the list. That result is well below the artist’s $44.4 million auction record (also the record for a woman artist), though seven works by O’Keeffe sold for over $1 million, including three that eclipsed $12 million. All three were part of the blockbuster Paul Allen sale at Christie’s in November 2022.

Mitchell’s appearances in the top 10 sales of 2022 include a large-scale painting, Untitled, from 1989 that sold for $14.1 million at Christie’s November 20th-century evening sale; and an untitled 1986 painting that sold for HK$83.3 million (US$10.6 million) at a Christie’s Hong Kong 20th-/21st-century evening sale.

Joan Mitchell, Untitled, 1989. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

Bourgeois’s top auction sale of 2022, Spider IV (1996), sold for HK$129.2 million (US$16.4 million) at Sotheby’s. Spider IV marks the second-highest sale for a woman artist in 2022, and is only one of two sculptures featured in the top 10. The other is Barbara Hepworth’s Elegy III (1966), which sold for $8.6 million in the Paul Allen auction and set a new record for the artist.

When it comes to record-breaking sales in 2022, Hepworth led the way, though that $8.6 million result pales in comparison to the top record set for the year: Andy Warhol’s $195 million Shot Sage Blue Marilyn. Even so, of the top 300 auction records set for late artists’ work in 2022, there were 56 different women artists represented, including expected names like Mary Cassatt and Leonora Carrington, but also some lesser known, including French Impressionist Eva Gonzalès, German Expressionist Gabriele Münter, 18th-century French painter Anne Vallayer-Coster, and Singaporean modernist Georgette Chen.

Barbara Hepworth, Elegy III , 1966–67. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

Tamara de Lempicka, Portrait de Marjorie Ferry, 1932. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

Of the 96 women artists’ auction results included in the top auction sales by late artists in 2022, there are only 36 unique inclusions, meaning that the bulk of that list is made up of multiple sales by artists like O’Keeffe, Hepworth, Mitchell, Bourgeois, Agnes Martin, and Helen Frankenthaler. This list means that there is little diversity of women beyond the white Western canon.

The limited distribution of sales across different women artists is reflective of how few top sales are achieved by women artists in the market as a whole. For example, in a list of the top 1,000 sales from 2022, only 96 of those lots were achieved by women, making for a combined total of $346.2 million sold. This number is even more startling when we factor in that only four women artists made the top 100 sales of the year.

Key genres

Ithell Colquhoun, Still Water, 1947. Courtesy of Bonham

With only 36 unique women artists represented in the top 1,000 sales of 2022, there are bound to be some dominant trends. Two throughlines among the sales for late women artists are Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism.

These styles were not just popular in 2022, but rather tend to make up the bulk of the work by women artists that has been collected over the century and speaks to how the stylistic shifts in art practices of the 20th century are becoming the 21st century’s definition of a modern master, like Impressionism was to artists of the mid–20th century.


Surrealism emerged in Europe between the two world wars. The term was coined by André Breton in 1924’s Surrealist Manifesto and defines that the subconscious or unconscious thought was the purest state of mankind’s identity.

Following this manifesto, artists like René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, and Méret Oppenheim all produced works that unmask their dreams and desire to navigate post-war identity and, then, looming, pre-war anxieties. The style has, unsurprisingly, seen a resurgence in contemporary artists’ practices, notably among women painters, like Ewa Juszkiewicz and Anna Weyant, who use surrealistic elements to navigate questions of bodily autonomy in an increasingly hostile global atmosphere to women’s rights.

In parallel with contemporary artists’ return to Surrealism, we have seen a larger focus on women Surrealists of the 20th century across museum exhibitions, commercial gallery shows, and at auctions. Some recent exhibitions include “Surrealism and Magic: Enchanted Modernity” at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in 2022; “Surrealism Beyond Borders” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2021; and of course, the “The Witch’s Cradle” spotlight capsule in “The Milk of Dreams” at the 2022 Venice Biennale.

Dorothea Tanning, Le mal oublié, 1955. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

However, despite the much deserved institutional hype, only 10% of the top 500 auction sales of 20th-century Surrealist art in 2022 were by women artists. Like the overall representation of women artists in the market, the list is not diverse and features only 11 women artists: Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Leonor Fini, Inji Efflatoun, Germaine Richier, Ithell Colquhoun, Eileen Agar, Hedda Sterne, Toyen, Dorothea Tanning, and Kay Sage.

Of that list, Fini’s, Richier’s, and Carrington’s works have had the most appearances at auction. Carrington appears in the top 10 Surrealist sales of 2022 an impressive four times; the highest sale went to The Garden of Paracelsus (1957), which fetched $3.2 million at Sotheby’s modern evening auction in May.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait (Very Ugly), 1933. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

However, the top sale of the year for women Surrealists belonged to Kahlo, whose 1933 painting Self-Portrait (Very Ugly) commanded $8.6 million at Christie’s 20th-century sale in November. Despite having the top sale for women Surrealist artists, Kahlo only appears on the list two times, though that may speak more to the scarcity of her works available on the secondary market.

The overall sales achieved by women Surrealists in 2022 was $16.97 million, which amounted to 4.6% of the top 500 most expensive sales of Surrealist art sold in 2022.

Abstract Expressionism

Given that the draw to Surrealism is due in part to the artists’ ability to excavate the psyche, it is unsurprising that the next genre that dominated top sales of late women artists was Abstract Expressionism. The genre’s origins emerged at the beginning of the 20th century with the work of Wassily Kandinsky, who painted shapes free of representational likeness that were inspired by his love of music, specifically how it felt upon his body.

Following World War II, there was a need for a cataclysmic shift in visual arts as many artists felt that representation could not capture the emotional terror of post-war life. The genre grew out of the New York School of painters that included Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Norman Lewis, and many others who used color and brushstroke to convey emotive tension in their abstraction.

While the popular notion is that Abstract Expressionism is bemoaned by public audiences (“I could do that!”), it has consistently dominated museum exhibitions, commercial gallery sales, and auctions since its emergence in the late 1940s. Like Surrealism, the last decade has seen the art world revisit Abstract Expressionism to unearth the overlooked Black and women artists in the field, both past and present.

Black Abstract Expressionist artists like Alma Thomas have received major retrospectives at institutions, and artists like Sam Gilliam and Jack Whitten have commanded top figures in the art market. Women like Joan Mitchell and Bernice Bing have had their careers reconsidered by the market and institutions, respectively.

In 2022, we saw that growth continue. In comparison to Surrealism, women artists’ works account for a much larger portion of the top 500 Abstract Expressionism sales: 120 of the top 500 sales were for works by women artists. Of that list, however, there are only 17 artists, with Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Lynne Drexler accounting for a whopping 82 of the 120 sales. Mitchell had the top sale in the genre with the 1989 painting Untitled selling for $14.1 million at Christie’s. Mitchell makes up seven of the top 10 auction results for women of Abstract Expressionism.

Helen Frankenthaler, February's Turn, 1979. Courtesy of Christie’s Images Limited.

The other three sales in the top 10 are Frankenthaler’s Circe (1979), which sold for $4.7 million; Lee Krasner’s Porcelain (1955), which sold for $3.7 million; and Frankenthaler’s February’s Turn (1979), which sold for $3.5 million. The overall sales achieved by women Abstract Expressionists in 2022 was $123.4 million, which amounted to 14.09% of the top 500 most expensive sales of Abstract Expressionist art sold in 2022.

Key names to know

Here, we highlight three late women artists whose works have experienced significant market momentum over the past year.

Lynne Drexler

B. 1928, Newport News, Virginia. D. 1999, Monhegan, Maine.

Lynne Drexler’s vibrant figurative paintings of foliage and still lifes distill the wonders of nature into thick brushstrokes. In addition to these figurative works, though, Drexler produced a rich collection of colorful abstractions produced in the same manner and with similar earth-toned hues. Last year, Drexler’s auction record was set when the painting Herbert’s Garden (1960) sold for an impressive $1.5 million at Christie’s post-war and contemporary art day sale in May. This was 15 times above the high estimate of $100,000. In fact, all of Drexler’s auction records were set last year, with her top four sales reaching over $1 million.

The Virginia-born artist’s formal training began with a fine arts degree from the Richmond Professional Institute, before she moved to New York and studied with Hans Hofmann, and later enrolled in the graduate program at Hunter College, where she studied with Robert Motherwell. Drexler became disillusioned with the New York art world once it shifted to Pop Art, and left. She spent her later years on Monhegan Island, located off the coast of Maine, where she would lose herself in her paintings of nature until her death in 1999.

Last year, Drexler received her first solo exhibition in New York in over 38 years with “Lynne Drexler: The First Decade,” a co-presentation by Berry Campbell and Mnuchin Gallery.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye

B. 1910, Utopia, Australia. D. 1996, Alice Springs, Australia.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s warm-toned abstract paintings use dots and lines specific to her Aboriginal heritage to create immersive works of art. The painter’s somewhat expressionistic style is a testament to the genre’s global footprint that extended beyond, and came before, the work of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Over the past decade, Kngwarreye’s paintings have made a splash, often selling for six figure sums. Her auction record was set in 2022 when Alhalkere - Old Man Emu with Babies (1989) sold for $819,000 at Sotheby’s Aboriginal art sale.

Last year, audiences had a chance to experience her work in Paris at Gagosian, which represents her estate, with “Emily Kame Kngwarreye: Desert Painter of Australia.” In addition to the record-breaking sale, many of Kngwarreye’s smaller paintings landed in auctions dedicated to Aboriginal art, which speaks to the growing trend of the market and institutional excavation of overlooked 20th-century abstract artists of color.

Georgette Chen

B. 1906, Zhejiang, China. D. 1993, Singapore.

Georgette Chen’s figurative paintings and still life’s are a delightful blend of Impressionism and Fauvism. Chen’s command of the brush was partially honed through her studies at Académie Colarossi and Académie Biloul in Paris, where she spent part of her youth, as well as her early art career. After the World War II, Chen relocated to Singapore, where, following its independence in 1965, she changed her nationality to Singaporean, and would remain until her death in 1993.

Chen’s top two auction records were set last year. Still Life with Rambutans, Mangosteens and Pineapple (1960) sold for HK$13.05 million (US$1.6 million) at Christie’s 20th-/21st-century art evening sale, which was nearly twice its median estimate of HK$6 million (US$764,376); and Boats and Shophouses (1963) sold for S$2.016 million (US$1.45 million) at a Sotheby’s modern and contemporary art auction.

Since late 2021, Chen’s auction results have averaged around a high six figure to low seven figure range. While this is certainly impressive, Chen’s dynamic paintings have been selling for mid six figures over the past decade, though she is still overdue for international recognition.

Ayanna Dozier
Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s Staff Writer.
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Jenna Gribbon, Luncheon on the grass, a recurring dream, 2020. Jenna Gribbon, April studio, parting glance, 2021. Jenna Gribbon, Silver Tongue, 2019