Sotheby’s has sold works by 1,100 male Old Master artists, but only 14 female Old Masters so far in 2018. But the category’s gender balance in 2019 is poised to look quite different. The auction house is planning a curated selection of paintings, sculptures, and drawings by female Old Masters for its Masters Week sales in late January and early February.
Thus far it has revealed that works by the Milanese-born Renaissance painter Fede Galizia, the Swiss Neoclassical painter Angelica Kauffmann, the celebrated French portrait painter Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun, and the Italian, Czech-born painter Antonietta Brandeis will be included in the sale dubbed “The Female Triumphant.” The Galizia, a still life, is expected to fetch between $2 million and $3 million, and the playful group portrait painting by Kauffmann has been estimated at $600,000 to $800,000.
In a statement, Calvine Harvey, a specialist in Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department in New York, said:
The number of Old Master female artists who succeeded and are known to us today remains incredibly few. These women defied enormous odds, and the strength and quality of their work is therefore all the more remarkable. In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in female artists, both in the marketplace and in academia, and we continue to uncover more information about the lives and work of these pioneering women.
Indeed, both museums and the marketplace are showing sustained interest in works by female Old Masters. Artemisia Gentileschi has become a major force in the Old Masters market as collectors and institutions seek out her very poignant paintings of strong female figures. A major Vigée-Le Brun retrospective opened at Paris’s Grand Palais in 2015 before traveling in 2016 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Canada. And after devoting its first-ever solo exhibition by a female artist to Flemish still life painter Clara Peeters, Madrid’s Museo Nacional del Prado announced it is organizing a two-woman show devoted to Italian Renaissance painters Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana.