Auction records were smashed for four women artists at Sotheby’s Master Paintings evening sale on Wednesday night, including Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun, whose dazzling full-length painting Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan (1788) sold for $7.2 million, setting a new record for a work by any woman artist of the pre-modern era. The evening sale totaled $52.7 million, with 60 of 79 works finding buyers, for a sell-through rate of 76% by lot.
The Vigée-Le Brun was the marquee work in the suite of lots Sotheby’s dubbed “The Female Triumphant,” which showcasing women artists from the 16th to 19th centuries. And records were set for three other featured women artists: Fede Galizia, whose still life A glass compote with peaches, jasmine flowers, quinces, and a grasshopper sold for $2.4 million; Angelica Kauffmann, whose playful group portrait of three children surpassed its high estimate of $800,000 to sell for $915,000; and Giulia Lama, whose pair of Old Testament scenes sold for $495,000.
In a statement, Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings specialist Calvine Harvey said:
The number of Old Master female artists who succeeded and are known to us today remains incredibly few—in 2018, Sotheby’s sold only 14 works by female Old Masters, compared to 1,100 male artists. [...] It was therefore such a thrill to see strong prices throughout our initial offering of works from ‘The Female Triumphant’—none more so than the monumental portrait by Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun that achieved a new auction record for any work by a female artist of the pre-Modern era. With additional records established for the work Fede Galizia, Angelica Kauffmann, and Giulia Lama, the market clearly responded to the work of these groundbreaking women, including both new and established collectors.
On Wednesday morning, Sotheby’s Old Master Drawings sale brought in a total of $15.1 million, led by Peter Paul Rubens’s Nude Study of a Young Man with Raised Arms, which sold for $8.2 million—a record for a Rubens drawing. The sale of that work, which was consigned by Princess Christina of the Netherlands, was contested by some Dutch museum leaders who felt they should have been given the opportunity to buy the drawing before it went to public auction.