Why Are Portraits of Women More Valuable Than Portraits of Men?
Does the market favor depictions of women?
According to a recent article on Bloomberg, modern art portraits of women sell for more than modern art portraits of men.
Citing Jeremiah Everts, Sotheby’s head of Impressionist and Modern Art, the financial news outlet claimed that a higher proportion of female subjects throughout art history has led to a greater acceptance of the female figure in art, and therefore a higher valuation than male subjects. “If you look at the history of art, there hare more portraits of women than men,” Everts said. But is it true that portraits of women sell for more than portraits of men?
A quick glance at the 10 most expensive paintings sold at auction reveals that the assumption holds weight. The top two slots are occupied by portraits of women; Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes de Alger (Version O) (1955), which sold for $179.4 million at Christie’s New York in May 2015, and Amadeo Modigliani’s Nu Couché (1917/18), which sold for $170.4 million at Christie’s New York in November 2015.
The following two works however aren’t depictions of women. Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucien Freud (1969), which sold for $142.4 million at Christie’s New York in November 2013, and the androgynous figure in Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1895), which sold for $119.9 million at Sotheby’s New York in May 2012.
Of the top 10 most expensive paintings to sell at auction, however, six are depictions of women compared to just two of men. Aside from Bacon’s triptych of Freud, Picasso’s Garçon à la pipe (1905), which sold for $104.2 million at Sotheby’s New York in May 2004, is the only other portrait of a male figure.
Only one work in the top 10 most expensive paintings to sell at auction doesn’t show a figure, Andy Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) (1963).
Based on the top end auctions, it seems that the art market does in fact favor depictions of women, perhaps because the majority of top-end collectors are male. Interestingly the only known female buyer of the top 10 most expensive paintings to sell at auction bought a portrait of a man, while the remaining four known buyers—all male—bought portraits of women.
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