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Sotheby's unveils the full contents of The Female Triumphant sale
Artemisia Gentileschi, Saint Sebastian Tended By Irene, oil on canvas, 39 3/4 by 50 3/8 in.; 101 by 127.5 cm. Estimate $400/600,000. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s unveiled the full contents of The Female Triumphant – a group of masterworks by 14 trailblazing female artists from the 16th through the 19th centuries, which they will offer across the Masters Week sales this January in New York.

Calvine Harvey, Specialist in Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department in New York, commented: “Over the past five years and across the art world, both curators and collectors have been addressing the gender imbalance in their collections, actively investing in female artists who have historically been overlooked in scholarship and undervalued in the market relative to their male counterparts. For example, Sotheby’s set a new auction record for any living female artist just last fall, when Jenny Saville’s ‘Propped’ from 2014 sold for $12.4 million. However, in looking back to the Old Masters, there is still work to be done. In 2018 alone, Sotheby’s sold only 14 works by female Old Masters – compared to 1,100 male artists. It’s important to remember that the obstacles women artists of the pre-Modern era faced were substantial, and those that broke down those barriers were truly triumphant. It is our hope that shining a spotlight on these important artists will help to grow our knowledge of their work, expand scholarship, and deepen their impact on the ever-shifting trajectory of art history.”

To mark his auction event, Sotheby’s has partnered once again with Victoria Beckham. Following a trip to The Frick Collection in New York during which she fell in love with the Masters, the fashion designer hosted an exhibition of works from Sotheby’s June 2018 auction of Old Master Paintings in the contemporary setting of her flagship Dover Street store in London. As a female designer hoping to empower women through her collections, Victoria was later inspired by the stories behind The Female Triumphant, and exhibited works by Fede Galizia, Angelika Kauffmann, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun and Marie-Victoire Lemoine in her store in December. Looking ahead to our January exhibition, Victoria will again celebrate these female artists by co-hosting a reception in Sotheby’s galleries and an intimate dinner at The Frick for the museum’s young patrons and Sotheby’s next-gen clients.

Speaking about the collaboration, Victoria Beckham said: “I am thrilled at the opportunity to collaborate once again with Sotheby’s and for the first time with The Frick during New York Masters Week. The theme of The Female Triumphant resonates strongly with me - and I am honoured to not only have been able to exhibit a small selection of the works of these female artists in my London flagship store, but to also be able to play a small part in this important moment in Old Masters sales. It is not just the quality of these breathtaking works but also the story telling of these ground-breaking women that is so fascinating and important. Both Sotheby’s and The Frick have ignited my love of the Old Masters and it is a privilege to work alongside two institutions I admire so enormously.’

The Female Triumphant will be offered across Sotheby’s Master Paintings Evening Sale on 30 January, Master Paintings & Sculpture Day Sale on 31 January and the 19th-Century European Art auction on 1 February. All 21 works will open for public exhibition in the New York galleries on 25 January.

It was not until the late-16th and early-17th centuries that women painters gained prominence – though they remained a rare occurrence through the 19th century. As it was considered dangerous and inappropriate for women to receive private lessons from a male artist, they were often excluded from apprenticeships and lacked access to proper training. Additionally, most cities in Europe had laws or strict rules that barred women from entry into artist guilds and academies, where all important life-drawing classes were held.

Thus, still life and portraiture became the most common genre for women artists – in fact, Fede Galizia was one of the first artists, male or female, to paint pure still lifes in Italy. However, some artists including Artemisia Gentileschi, Giulia Lama and Angelika Kauffmann succeeded in painting religious and historical compositions, even receiving large and important commissions. Most of the women artists who succeeded had fathers, brothers or husbands who they were able to study with at a young age. It was not until societies became more progressive that restrictions eased, for example, the French Revolution led to the opening of exclusive Salons to any artist, including women.

Rome 1593 – circa-1656 Naples

With Artemisia Gentileschi the concept of the true “woman-artist” appeared for the first time in the history of painting, a field which had previously been dominated by men. The daughter of the famous painter Orazio Gentileschi, she liberated herself to claim her artistic independence after having learned the secrets of the trade from her father. Though she was raped by a tutor hired by her father, and underwent a historically famous court case, she did not let the experience stop her from pursuing painting. She called upon the style of Caravaggio – but with her own distinct brushstrokes. Her paintings were celebrated by the noble and powerful families of Rome and Naples, as well as the ruling Spanish viceroys, and fetched high prices. As her success grew, Artemisia became a valued member of society, attending the Florentine court of the Medici, as well as a friend of Galileo Galilei and of the learned Cassiano del Pozzo. She was so respected that she became the first woman in history admitted to the prestigious Accademia del Disegno, founded by Giorgio Vasari.

This January Sotheby's will offer Artemisia’s oil on canvas of Saint Sebastian, an impressive recent addition to the artist’s oeuvre (estimate $400/600,000). Sometimes presented by latter-day scholars as a proto-feminist, Artemisia reveled in depictions of female heroines such as Judith and Sisera, as well as more traditional subjects such as Cleopatra, Danaë, and female personifications of allegories. Here, she once more celebrates female virtue by showing Irene and Lucina giving relief to the Roman deserter Sebastian, after he had been repeatedly wounded by arrows.

Paris 1755 - 1842

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun was a precocious and talented artist from a young age; she succeeded in gaining entrance to the Académie de Saint-Luc at just 19, a remarkable accomplishment for a woman at the time. By the late 1770s, Le Brun’s reputation as a portraitist had become well established. In 1778 she was called to Versailles to paint a full-length portrait of the young Queen Marie Antoinette. The tremendous success of this portrait led to a number of royal commissions and the continued patronage of the Queen and her circle. As a royalist and portraitist of Marie-Antoinette, Le Brun fled France during the Revolution and traveled throughout Europe for many years, spending time in Italy, Vienna, Russia, England and Switzerland. She was greeted warmly in most aristocratic circles, and in the tradition of the courtier artist, was often treated as the social equal of her sitters. As probably the most widely recognized French female artist of the 18th century, her works are highly prized. In 2016, she was the subject if a blockbuster exhibition at the Grand Palais and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Sotheby’s Evening Sale of Master Paintings on 30 January will offer one of the most important works by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun to come to auction. Offered with an estimate of $4/6 million, Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, comes to the market for the first time in over a century. Painted in the summer of 1788 and exhibited at the Salon of 1789, when political unrest had begun to boil in France, the work is an evocative account of France’s fascination with the East as well as Vigée’s resourcefulness in acquiring this unique commission. Separate release attached.

Two additional works by the artist will be featured during Masters Week: an elegant pastel bust-length portrait of the Irish aristocrat Lady Spencer Perceval (estimate $150/250,000), completed during her time in England in 1803-5; and an early portrait done in 1774 of a Young Woman Dressed in White (estimate $40/60,000).

Paris 1754 - 1820

Marie-Victoire Lemoine is said to have studied under Vigée Le Brun. While many artists – including Le Brun – fled France during the Revolution given their associations with the court, others like Lemoine stayed and enjoyed fresh opportunities from the upheaval. In 1791, the new government opened up the biannual Salons to all artists, including women like Lemoine who had previously been held back by the Académie Royale’s restrictions on women members. Her breakthrough came in 1796 when she first exhibited at the Paris Salon, where she would go on to find success. Though she never married, she was able to support herself entirely by her painting – a remarkable feat at the time.

This sumptuous portrait of a young and attractive girl depicts Madame de Genlis, a writer who later became the first female governess to the royal princes, charged with the education of the sons of Philippe, duc d'Orléans (estimate $60/80,000). Marie-Victoire Lemoine painted Madame de Genlis with a soft yet commanding beauty, elegantly and directly looking out at the viewer in this sensual depiction of the young writer, alluding more to her role as mistress to the duc d'Orleans rather than as a formidable governess. The Female Triumphant also will offer the vibrant Still life of spring flowers in a basket – the only known, pure still life by Lemoine (estimate $80/120,000).

Milan 1578 - 1630

Daughter of the miniaturist and painter, Nunzio Galizia, Fede Galizia trained under her father. Her precocious talent was already on full display as a young teenager, and by the age of 20, she had achieved international renown as a painter of portraits and devotional compositions. Although early modern female artists rarely received commissions for major history paintings, Galizia was best known in her lifetime for devotional works and commissioned portraits. While most 17th-century painters specialized in a single genre, she produced a diverse body of work – an especially unusual feat for a woman artist. While her still lifes were virtually unknown to scholars until the 20th century, it is now apparent that Galizia was one of the female artists who would play a vital role in the emergence of the relatively new genre of still life. Although she produced fewer than 20 refined, naturalistic still life compositions on panel, these works inspired followers in her lifetime and are now considered her most important paintings.

Fede Galizia’s A glass compote with peaches, jasmine flowers, quinces, and a grasshopper (estimate $2/3 million) is a beautiful example of the revolutionary female artist’s contributions to the Italian still life genre, which she helped to invent in the early 17th century. Exhibited internationally, the work was described as one of Galizia’s finest paintings in the second edition of Flavio Caroli’s definitive monograph of the artist’s work. Despite the intimate size of the panel, Galizia has created a sense of monumental scale with her placement of objects. Her close observation of details – such as the softness of the peaches, the modulations in the green on the leaves, and even the stripes on the grasshopper’s abdomen – continues to enchant viewers today.

Venice circa 1681 - 1747

Bold in her art, refined in her intellect, yet reserved in her nature, Giulia Lama is one of the most enigmatic and fascinating figures of Venice in the early 17th-century. As an artist, poetess, embroiderer and scholar, she transcended the boundaries placed upon women during her lifetime. Born in 1681 as the eldest of four children, she remained close to her family her whole life, never marrying and largely living a life of seclusion. She was lauded for her intelligence, and her skills as a poet were stylistically linked in style to Petrarch. Economically independent, she supported herself financially through her creative talents, including her fine lacework and paintings, which ranged from large and dramatic altarpieces to mythological scenes and sensitively executed portraits.

Unlike the Rococo style of her contemporary Rosalba Carriera, Giulia Lama executed large, energetic, and naturalistic compositions, often turning to subjects and techniques considered unconventional for women at the time. The present pair of canvases – which share a simple setting, restrained color palette, and a dramatic diagonal arrangement with each other – illustrates two lesser-known stories from the Old Testament: Joseph Interpreting the Eunuchs' Dreams and Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar consoling Job (estimate $400/600,000). Untraced until recently, these two paintings serve as visual testaments to her unwavering character and artistic prowess that for many generations was overshadowed by her male contemporaries.

Coira 1741-1807 Rome

One of the most cultured and influential women of her generation, Angelika Kauffmann holds a place of particular importance in European art history. A talented musician, she was both a brilliant history and portrait painter. Born in Switzerland and trained in Rome, she first came to England in 1766. In London she quickly became a close friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds, who she is rumored to have nearly married at one point, as well as many of the most prominent cultural figures in England, including David Garrick. Fluent in English, French, Italian and German, her charm, wit, intelligence and skill attracted much attention. As a result, she was highly sought after as a portraitist by many of the foremost connoisseurs of the day – including members of the Royal family. In 1768, Kauffmann cemented her status by becoming one of only two female founding members of the Royal Academy. In her later years, following her marriage to the Italian decorative painter Antonio Zucchi, she returned to Rome where her studio became a popular stop for fashionable visitors on the Grand Tour, including artists, writers, aristocrats and dealers from across Europe. Her clients included many of the crowned heads of Europe, including Catherine the Great of Russia, and she was close friends with international luminaries such as Goethe, Canova and Sir William Hamilton.

One of the wealthiest families in England, the young generation of Spencers likely depicted in Angelika Kauffmann’s Portrait of Three Children were prominent figures in the English aristocracy, and amongst the artist’s earliest British patrons (estimate $600/800,000). Seated at left with a handful of flowers is Georgiana Spencer, later Duchess of Devonshire upon her marriage to William, 5th Duke of Devonshire in 1774. As Duchess, she became one of the most famous and powerful women in 18th-century British society. Her sister, Lady Henrietta Frances, later the Countess of Bessborough, is depicted at the center holding an arrow. To her right is George John, Viscount Althorp, later 2nd Earl Spencer, who would become a Member of Parliament for Northampton and later for Surrey.

Mons 1604 - 1689 Brussels

Born in 1604 in Mons, Wautier was the only daughter in a family of nine children, and appears to have begun her career later in life, around age 39. Her brother Charles was also a painter, and the two moved to Brussels in 1645, where they both remained unmarried and shared a studio. Michaelina’s absence from the art historical canon is all the more surprising given that she worked in multiple genres: portraiture, floral still life, genre painting, and history painting. The latter was the most unusual feat for a woman artist as it was considered the genre of highest importance and typically required studying live models, from which women were barred. After her death in 1689, most of her works remained with her family. This fact, combined with a lack of documentary evidence about Michaelina, led to her paintings being incorrectly attributed to others, with her artistic impact forgotten – until a recent monographic exhibition in Antwerp in 2018 introduced her work to the public for the first time.

This recently discovered Study of a young boy turned away with a red cloak over his shoulders, turned almost in profile to the left, displays Wautier’s ability to convey both the naturalistic appearance of her subjects as well as their internal mood (estimate $60/80,000). The addition of this sensitive head study to Wautier’s oeuvre reveals the careful modeling, inventive use of color and chiaroscuro, and compassionate treatment of young subjects that earned Wautier success in her lifetime and the long overdue attention she has finally received. Wautier also excelled in other genres, including still lifes, as seen in her Garland of Flowers, Suspended Between Two Animal Skulls, A Dragonfly Above (estimate $200/300,000). Drawing inspiration from her Flemish contemporaries as well as from ancient Roman iconography, the work stands out as one of only two still lifes known by her hand.


In conjunction with The Female Triumphant, Sotheby’s will host a non-selling exhibition of contemporary portraiture by the acclaimed Dutch photographer Carla van de Puttelaar. Taken from Van de Puttelaar’s inspirational and globally recognized series from 2017, Artfully Dressed: Women in the Art World, the exhibition features over 60 portrait photographs of prominent and promising women in the art world, including museum curators and directors, collectors, academics and art historians, gallerists, auction professionals, artists, art fair organizers, philanthropists, conservators, and journalists. The women span a wide range of backgrounds, nationalities, areas of expertise and ages but are united in their intelligence, achievements, influence and taste.

In addition to the existing works, Sotheby’s commissioned a continuation of the series featuring portraits of 30 prominent American women, including Elizabeth M. Eveillard, Chairman, Board of Trustees, The Frick Collection New York, NY; Renée Price, Director, Neue Galerie New York, NY; Rena M. De Sisto, Global Executive for Arts & Culture, Bank of America New York, NY, and Rachel Kaminsky of Rachel Kaminsky Fine Art LLC, New York, NY.

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