Artnet Analytics Deep Dive: We Explore the Rising Market for Female Abstract Expressionists

On the occasion of our latest auction, we're exploring recent developments in the market for historically overlooked Ab Ex painters. 

Grace Hartigan, Russian Family (1979). Live now in Post-War Abstraction on Artnet Auctions.

In the wake of World War II, as trauma and anxiety gripped the world, a new art form took hold in New York City.

Abstract Expressionism, characterized by gestural brush-strokes, spontaneous forms, and deeply emotional impact, helped to cement New York as the center of the art world in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The first names that generally come to mind are Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still, among other men. Yet many women played a crucial role in developing the movement—and in recent years, they have seen a meteoric rise to prominence on the secondary art market.

On the occasion of Post-War Abstraction, Artnet Auctions’ first sale dedicated to Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting, we’re exploring recent developments in the market for historically overlooked female Ab-Ex and Color Field painters. 

With the help of the Artnet Price Database, we honed in on five key female Abstract Expressionists: Helen Frankenthaler, Agnes Martin, Louise Nevelson, Grace Hartigan, and Vivian Springford. Each of these artists have seen an exceptional rise in market value in recent years, in large part due to a rise in critical and institutional attention for their work. Since 1999, the total sales value for these five artists has increased by an astonishing 3477 percent, from just over $1 million in 1999 to $56.5 million in 2021. And the demand grows each year, with total sales value growing by over $10 million between 2020 and 2021.

Over the past two decades, the market for works by female Abstract Expressionists has seen a significant increase.

Frankenthaler, now widely lauded as a key player in the creation of Color Field painting, was not initially met with the same critical reception as her male peers. However, in the past two decades, collectors have warmed to Frankenthaler’s signature style and pioneering soak-stain method. Her market experienced a record year in 2020, when her painting Royal Fireworks (1975) achieved $7.8 million at auction.

Meanwhile, the market for Martin, which picked up significantly after a 2015 Tate Modern retrospective, the first since 1994, has reached soaring heights in 2021. Her painting Untitled #44 (1974)  sold for $17.7 million after a fierce bidding war in the November 2021 Macklowe collection auction.

Louise Nevelson, Morning Haze, 1978. Live now in Post-War Abstraction on Artnet Auctions.

Hartigan, Nevelson, and Springford, are also not to be overlooked. Works by each of these women broke auction records in the past two years, as they continue to garner long-overdue acclaim.

To join the market momentum, explore works by Martin, Nevelson, Hartigan, Springford, and more Abstract Expressionists in Post-War Abstraction. And stay up to date on their booming markets by ordering your own custom Analytics Report. You’ll gain access to valuable data, including global auction sales volume, adjusted average sale prices, sell-through rates, and more. Contact us to begin customizing for the insight you need.

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