Why you should invest in female artists

Art made by women is where the value is, and prices are starting to rise, says Chris Carter.

"Louis Vuitton shop window display", by Yayoi Kusama © JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images

"Louis Vuitton shop window display", by Yayoi Kusama
(Image credit: "Louis Vuitton shop window display", by Yayoi Kusama © JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Move over Jeff Koons and David Hockney. When it comes to making money from investing in art, it's female artists who are in the frame. Is that overstating things a bit? Koons and Hockney are both big names, who continue to attract big prices. Just look at Koons' Rabbit, which sold for $91.1m (£74.7m) in May a smidgeon more than the $90.3m Hockney's Portrait of an Artist fetched last November. Both of those sums set the record for the most paid for an artwork at auction by a living artist and both Koons and Hockney are, of course, male. But on the whole, it's works by post-war female artists that are appreciating at the fastest rate, according to Sotheby's Mei Moses indices, which track the repeat-sale prices of 60,000 artworks.

The Sotheby's study found that the All Art-Female (AAF) index, which comprises 2,472 repeat sales by 499 female artists, rose by 72.9% between 2012 and 2018. That compares with just 8.3% for the All Art-Male (AAM) index, which is made up of 55,706 repeat sales by 8,477 male artists. "This is in contrast to the previous 50 years in which the resale markets for both male and female artists performed roughly in parallel (albeit at different volumes)," says Michael Klein, head of Sotheby's Mei Moses. Break the data down to show works by just contemporary female artists (as opposed to all female artists) and resale prices have risen by 87.7% in those six years. (For non-contemporary female artists the figure is 30.7%.)

Works by men do still make up 90% of the market by volume and 93% by value, and that hasn't changed in the past decade, notes Klein. But that might change. One big reason for this is simply that work by women has been overlooked for so long the pool of "undiscovered talent" is therefore deeper. When the supply of works by artists such as Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning are exhausted, the spotlight tends to widen to include related works by undervalued female contemporaries such as Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler. "The median compound annual returns (CARs) for works by Mitchell and Frankenthaler... resold at auction between 2014 and 2018 were 14.7% and 10.9% respectively," says Klein. For Willem de Kooning and Pollock, the figures were 7.8% and 6.5% respectively.

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Women still lag the field

Economist Clare McAndrew sounds a note of caution, however. She points to the disparity of sample sizes used by the AAF and AAM indices mentioned above. "It's really difficult for women to make it into the secondary auction market in the first place," McAndrew tells CNN. "So there's a huge bias in this data the women it's looking at are the really successful ones." Klein disagrees, telling CNN that McAndrew's objections don't explain "why the indices tracked together closely for so long before diverging". But it's true that a few women have become phenomenally successful in recent years, not least Jenny Saville, whose 1992 portrait Propped sold for £9.5m last October the most paid for an artwork by a living female artist.

Then there's Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (pictured), who has risen almost to brand-name status. And yet, even with Saville and Kusama, the prices paid for their works still lag those of, say, Koons and Hockney by some way. Whether they still will over the next decade remains to be seen. But they have quite some catching up to do.

The "Isleworth Mona Lisa" by Leonardo da Vinci © FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/GettyImages

(Image credit: The "Isleworth Mona Lisa" by Leonardo da Vinci © FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/GettyImages)

The row over the other Mona LisaEverybody's heard of the Mona Lisa. Far fewer have heard of its supposed older sister, dubbed the Isleworth Mona Lisa and much less seen it. The painting (pictured) had been held in a Swiss bank vault since 1975 until it was exhibited this summer in Florence, says Philip Willan in The Times. Now Giovanni Battista Protti, a lawyer in Padua representing a minority shareholder in the painting, is pressing for it to be impounded.

The dispute goes back to Hugh Blaker, a British art collector, who found the painting almost a century ago. He bought it and took it home to Isleworth, west London. Hence the name. Blaker later sold it to Henry Pulitzer, an American, who sold a quarter share in the artwork to the Lisbon-based porcelain-maker Leland Gilbert. Pulitzer left his remaining share to his partner, Elizabeth Meyer. When she died in 2008, an international consortium, called The Mona Lisa Foundation, bought up the Pulitzer share. The unnamed minority shareholder, who is bringing the law suit, says he wasn't consulted about the painting's latest movements. The Foundation suggests the action might have been stirred by the critical acclaim and a collection of recent academic studies that "all but establishes" that the earlier Mona Lisa "was executed by Leonardo". Art expert Martin Kemp is unimpressed by that. He describes the Foundation's evidence as "piles of unstable hypotheses, stacked one on another".



Don Bradman's cricket bat

A cricket bat signed by Australian great Don Bradman is heading for sale with Leski, an auction house in Melbourne, on 11 August. The bat has also been signed by 16 members of the infamous English "Bodyline" team of the 1930s named for the tactic whereby balls were bowled at the bodies of Australian batsmen, which was seen as physically threatening and potentially dangerous. Wisden, the bible of cricket, described the matches as "probably the most unpleasant Test [series] ever played", says The Times. The seller, James Sanders, wouldn't say how much he had paid for the bat at an auction in New Zealand, but it is believed to have been "a few hundred" New Zealand dollars, says The New Zealand Herald. This time around it is expected to sell for up to A$35,000 (£19,500).


An auction of tennis memorabilia belonging to former Wimbledon champion Boris Becker raised £680,000 last month. A silver replica of the US Open trophy that the German tennis ace won in 1989 against Czech opponent Ivan Lendl fetched the most at £150,250. Another replica, this time of the Davis Cup, sold for £52,100. The 82-lot sale was held at auctioneers Wyles Hardy & Co to help pay off debts owed by Becker after he was declared bankrupt two years ago. The auction had begun in June last year, but it was suspended when Becker claimed diplomatic immunity against an attempt to sue him, insisting his appointment as a diplomat by the Central African Republic gave him protection from any legal claims, says BBC News. The claim was eventually dropped and the auction rescheduled.

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.