10 Record-Breaking Works by Women Artists

Joan Mitchell, “Hours,” oil on canvas, 1989. Sold for $2,775,000 via Phillips (May 2018).

May 2018 was a historic month for the art market.

At Sotheby’s, Kerry James Marshall’s painting “Past Timesset the record for the sale of a work by a living African American artist at $21.1 million. The David and Peggy Rockefeller Collection went under the hammer at Christie’s, setting new auction records for the likes of modern artists Claude Monet ($84 million) and Henri Matisse ($80.8 million) among others, and becoming the most expensive private collection ever sold at auction.

Among the successes from this past month are new record prices for women artists including Joan Mitchell and Njideka Akunyili Crosby. Mitchell’s painting “Blueberry” realized $16.6 million at Christie’s, setting a new record for the artist. In the same sale as Marshall’s “Past Times,” Nigerian-born Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s painting “Bush Babies” sold for $3.3 million to become the world auction record for the artist.

With these skyscraping milestones in mind, our editors took a look at other significant sales of works by women artists. These auction results reflect the growing power of diversity in the art market. Female artists, who have historically been overlooked in favor of their male counterparts, are becoming increasingly prominent in the market as private collectors and institutions alike attempt to round out their collections.


Georgia O’Keeffe, “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1”

Price Realized: $44.4 million

When this 1932 Georgia O’Keeffe painting sold for $44.4 million during
Sotheby’s American Art sale in November of 2014, it became the most expensive work by a female artist ever sold at auction. “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1” originally belonged to O’Keeffe’s sister Anita and was sold in 2014 by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to support the museum’s acquisition fund. The work is a rare instance of a larger canvas by O’Keeffe early in her career. It was constructed during the same period as she began working on a mural commission for Radio City Music Hall in New York City. 

In May of 2018, O’Keeffe’s painting “Lake George with White Birch” sold for $11.3 million at Sotheby’s during their Impressionist & Modern Art Evening sale, nearly twice its high estimate.

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1,” oil on canvas, 1932. Sold for $44,405,000 via Sotheby’s (November 2014).


Louise Bourgeois, “Spider”

Price Realized: $28.2 million

A monumental sculpture by Louise Bourgeois entitled “Spider” (1996) became the highest-selling work by a female Post-War artist in November 2015, when it sold at Christie’s during the Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale. This work is an example of Bourgeois’s signature spindly spider sculptures, which in part represent her mother and herself. On the motif Bourgeois said, “With the Spider, I try to put across the power and the personality of a modest animal. Modest as it is, it is very definite and it is indestructible.”


Joan Mitchell, “Blueberry”

Price Realized: $16.6 million

May 2018 was a stellar month for Post-War phenom Joan Mitchell, whose work “Blueberry” (1969) achieved more than double its high estimate when at least 7 bidders attempted to purchase it at Christie’s. The work realized $16.6 million the same day as a later canvas by Mitchell entitled “Hours” sold at Phillips for $2.7 million.

Joan Mitchell, “Hours,” oil on canvas, 1989. Sold for $2,775,000 via Phillips (May 2018).


Jenny Saville, “Shift”

Price Realized: £6.8 million

British artist Jenny Saville is known for depictions of female and transgender bodies, painted in the style of classical nudes. Her work “Shift” (1997) broke the artist’s previous auction record of $2.8 million when it sold at Sotheby’s in June 2016 for £6.8 million. The bidding came down to art dealer Larry Gagosian and Chinese buyers Wang Wei and Liu Yiqian, who ultimately purchased the work for the Long Museum in Shanghai, China.


Yayoi Kusama, “White No. 28”

Price Realized: $7.1 million

Yayoi Kusama’s auction record was set when “White No. 28” (1960) was sold at Christie’s in November of 2014. The following year, another early work by the artist in the same style entitled “No. Red B”  was sold at Sotheby’s for approximately $7 million. Kusama, who has become a pop culture icon as exhibitions of her work attract huge audiences in the United States and abroad, was active in the New York avant-garde art scene during the 1960s. These works are indicative of her early period, when she was making large-scale monochromatic paintings.

Yayoi Kusama, “No. Red B,” oil on canvas, 1960. Sold for HKD54,520,000 via Sotheby’s (October 2015).


Cindy Sherman, “Untitled Film Stills”

Price Realized: $6.7 million

Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Still” series comprises 70 photos taken over the span of 3 years, from 1977 to 1980. In these works, Sherman explores representation and identity by photographing herself as various stereotypes of women in film: the working girl, the vamp, the lonely housewife, etc. “Untitled Film Stills” is significant in the canon of Contemporary art, so it’s no surprise that the series is immensely popular on the secondary market. The auction record for a group of photographs from this series is $6.7 million and was set at Christie’s in 2014.

Cindy Sherman “Untitled Film Still #10,” gelatin silver print, 1978. Sold for $225,000 via Sotheby’s (May 2018).


Julie Mehretu, “Retopistics”

Price Realized: $4.6 million

When “Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation” sold for $4,603,750 at Christie’s in May of 2013, it was appearing on the secondary market for the first time. Then the largest work executed by Ethiopian artist Julie Mehretu, “Retopistics” is still the most expensive piece by Mehretu ever sold at auction.

In May 2018, a canvas by Mehretu went under the hammer at Sotheby’s and sold for $2.5 million. The painting is typical of Mehretu’s style: layered, lyrical, architectural abstraction.

Julie Mehretu, “Untitled 2,” ink and polymer on canvas mounted to board, 1999. Sold for $2,535,000 via Sotheby’s (May 2018).


Tracey Emin, “My Bed”

Price Realized: $4 million

Multimedia artist Tracey Emin is known for deeply personal works that often coincide with feminist discourse. Her work “My Bed” is a prime example of this dichotomy. The work is the contents of Emin’s bedroom, installed in order to capture the objects as they existed at that particular moment. “My Bed” is confessional in nature, exposing the particularities of being a female artist through an examination of one woman’s possessions. It sold at Christie’s in their July 2014 Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale for £2.5 million.


Njideka Akunyili Crosby, “Bush Babies”

Price Realized: $3.3 million

Though an artist still early in her career, Njideka Akunyili Crosby has been a standout at art fairs in recent years. Crosby’s auction history dates back only to 2016, when an untitled painting was sold at Sotheby’s for $93,750. Crosby’s work is highly sought-after in the secondary market because she only produces a few paintings each year, thus the availability of her work on the primary market is limited.

In May, Crosby’s painting “Bush Babies” (2017) was sold at Sotheby’s for $3.3 million, her personal record for a work sold at auction. The work was part of a group of paintings sold to benefit the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, “Untitled,” acrylic, graphite, colored pencil, printed paper collage and solvent transfer on paper. Sold for $93,750 via Sotheby’s (September 2016).


Tauba Auerbach, “Untitled (Fold)”

Price Realized: $2.29 million

Contemporary artist Tauba Auerbach achieved her auction record at Phillips in 2014, when a work from her acclaimed series of “Fold” paintings sold for $2.29 million. These works were created by spray-painting folds of crumpled canvas and then stretching the canvas to reveal the textures.

Tauba Auerbach, “Untitled (Fold),” acrylic on canvas, 2010. Sold for $2,285,000 via Phillips (November 2014).


Looking for more? 7 members of the Association of Women Art Dealers (AWAD) reveal their choice woman artist. Click here to read more.

Sources: Huffington Post | Observer | Sotheby’s | SFMoMA | ARTNews | The Art Newspaper | Phillips | Yahoo | MoMA | Culture Type | ARTNews | Guggenheim | MoMA | Tracey Emin Studio