Frida Kahlo, the Mexican artist whose iconic face is plastered on everything from coffee mugs to pillows, made yet another splash in the art world this month when her self-portrait, entitled “Diego and I,” sold at auction for $34.9 million.
While Kahlo set a new record for Latin American artists, regardless of gender, female artists have historically struggled to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts, who have for centuries dominated the art market.
Even the top-selling female artists of our time tread well behind heavy hitters like Leonardo da Vinci, whose painting “Salvator Mundi” sold at Christie’s for $450.3 million in 2017, or Pablo Picasso, whose “Les Femmes d’Alger (‘Version O’)” sold for $179.4 million.
Still, the Kahlo sale by Sotheby’s on Nov. 16 created a realignment among female artists whose works have sold at auction for record-breaking prices. Below are the top five works created by female artists.
“Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1,” Georgia O’Keefe
O’Keefe still retains the title of the highest-selling woman in art, with one of her iconic flower paintings sold for a whopping $44 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2014. The 1932 painting first belonged to the artist’s sister, Anita, and shows O’Keefe’s now instantly recognizable style from early on in her career. The painting is currently located in the Indianapolis Museum of Art in Indiana.
“Diego and I,” Frida Kahlo
The Mexico City-born artist completed this raw self-portrait five years before her death in 1954, and it depicts the conflict-ridden relationship between Kahlo and her husband, Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. She easily surpassed her husband at auction — Rivera had set a new benchmark for Latin American art in 2018, when one of his paintings sold for nearly $10 million. The lucky buyer of the Kahlo work is the founder of the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires.
“Spider,” Louise Bourgeois
The influential sculptor who is known for her gigantic, spindly spiders, sold one of these creatures in 2015 for $28.2 million during Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale. The French-born American artist was not well known until she was in her 70s, according to the New York Times, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York City held a retrospective of her work in 1982 and she started to receive a flurry of global attention. With her blatantly feminist work, she was chosen to represent the United States in the Venice Biennale in 1993.
“Blueberry,” Joan Mitchell
The American painter, who moved in the Abstract Expressionist circles of New York City in the 1950s, is the creator of this abstract painting, which sold at Christie’s for $16.6 million in 2018. Seven bidders wrangled for the painting, doubling its estimate. Mitchell found much of her inspiration in the French countryside, where she lived most of her life.
“Propped,” Jenny Saville
The British artist, who is also the youngest in this list — she was born in 1970 — is famous for her large-scale paintings depicting nude women in all their imperfect glory. Her self-portrait sold for £9.5 million at Sotheby’s London in 2018, breaking the record at the time for the most expensive painting by a living artist. Saville, a member of the Young British Artists, is represented by the renowned Gagosian gallery.