Ladies at Auction

Warhol, Picasso, Van Gogh, Freud. It’s usually the same names shuffled around in rank each year, give or take a few tens of millions of dollars. They are traditionally the most in-demand powerhouses at art auctions, drawing the big bucks from collectors around the world. The artists are all great to be sure. They’re also all men. But the times may be a’changin’. An art market surge of women artists might be upon us prompted by, of all people, Berthe Morisot, an artist whose works can be described as unequivocally “feminine”. Centered on subjects of bourgeois ladies, domestic life, and Impressionistic outdoor scenes, Morisot’s paintings are visually pleasing, benign, almost soothing. In contrast to the candid realism of Lucien Freud, the macho prowess of Picasso, the slick commercialism of Warhol, or the intense, vivid palette of Van Gogh, Morisot was a genteel, civilized lady who sought neither to shock nor scream. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

In February, Berthe Morisot’s 1881 painting After Luncheon was purchased for $10.9 million at auction, setting a record for most expensive work sold by a female artist. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Women on the Verge”, goes into some detail about the role of women artists in the auction scene and discusses the disparities that exist between women and their male counterparts in terms of sales. To her credit, Madonna has been collecting Tamara de Lempicka for many years, as has Barbra Streisand. According to the WSJ article, Helen Frankenthaler is starting to make a strong showing. And in the artistic photography niche Cindy Sherman does extremely well.

I am certainly no expert on the inner workings of the art market world, although I do take an interest in the articles about auction sales that pop up from time to time. Curiosity I guess. Also fascinating to learn how much a collector paid for a particular work and speculate as to why. Was it driven by pure admiration? Or shrewd investment? Maybe a bit of both. As far as the gender disparity goes, as a woman who avoids blaming sexism for everything (I don’t deny it exists of course) I confess that I’ve often wondered why you rarely see the names Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe, or even Alice Neel, appear in these big art sales stories. Hmm.

But here’s to Berthe Morisot, sending a feminine jolt into the stodgy, predictable art auction scene. Rock it, Ms. Morisot! You are a lady through and through 🙂

Here is a Morisot painting I happen to like very much. Young Woman Picking Oranges, 1889:

Morisot-oranges

5 thoughts on “Ladies at Auction

  1. Berthe Morisot deserves to be considered one of the top impressionist painters. Thanks for sharing her work!

  2. Bill says:

    I think that the financial aspect of the art market is largely driven by speculation rather than investment. After all, a work of art may (or may not) be aesthetically pleasing, but it doesn’t generate revenue or earnings like you would expect from a traditional investment like a stock. So there is nothing to justify an expectation of future profit other than the idea that prices for the artist’s work have risen in the past — or that there will be a change in market perception that will cause them to rise in the future.
    My point is that, past a certain price point (the limit of how much someone will spend for a work of art simply because they like it), I don’t think it’s as much whether Morisot’s work is as great as Picasso’s or Van Gogh’s. It’s whether someone gets the idea that female Impressionists are the next “big thing.” Personally, I tip my hat to the people who buy art because they like it — because it touches something inside of them.

    • artmodel says:

      Bill,

      You should write for Forbes 😆 But yes, you’re so on point with everything you wrote. Also, I think that many of these wealthy collectors buy works of art based on genuine fondness for the piece than perhaps they get credit for. I have no proof of this of course, just a feeling.

      Thanks for your comments!

      Claudia

      • Bill says:

        Any reference to money immediately activates the Scottish part of my brain — I start channeling Scrooge McDuck. 🙂
        You know, it’s not just about women artists — it’s also about art forms that are more frequently associated with women. Fiber arts — collectible quilts, etc. I never heard of an art quilt when I was younger.

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