In an effort to spice up the market for works by under-recognised women painters of the early modern period, Sotheby’s New York has called upon none other than the spice girl herself, Victoria Beckham.
The fashion designer and former pop star recently travelled to New York to help highlight the significance of the 14 women featured in the auction house’s upcoming Old Masters sale, “The Female Triumphant”. Sotheby’s opened the gallery today and featured 21 paintings by artists including Artemisia Gentileschi, Angelika Kauffmann, and Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le brun as well as lesser-known painters like Marie-Victoire Lemoine, and Michelina Wautier.
Beckham made a special appearance last night to unveil the pre-sale exhibition at an event for Sotheby’s Young Collectors and the Young Fellows of the Frick Collection. Many works in the auction were previously on view in December at the London flagship store of Beckham’s clothing line. “People didn’t really see it coming; it’s an unlikely collaboration,” Beckham spoke of the pairing between her sleep modern brand with the historic art. “There was a lot of champagne and a lot of fun next to a lot of very expensive pieces of art!”
Beckham has famously amassed an impressive collection of contemporary art along with her husband, David Beckham. But up until Sotheby’s approached her in 2018, she had little experience with Old Masters except for frequently visiting New York’s Frick Collection, a museum she now considers to be her favourite destination in the city.
She agreed to work with Sotheby’s for their July Old Masters sale in London and they curated the exhibition at her store. Her favourite painting at the show, Peter Paul Ruben’s Portrait of a Venetian Nobleman, became the top-selling lot.
The star of the exhibition at hand is Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape (1788), carrying a pre-sale estimate of $4 to $6 million. Le Brun was the portraitist to Marie Antoinette but her works have been relatively rare on the market up until recently. Another major highlight is Artemisia Gentileschi’s Saint Sebastian Tended by Irene, expected to sell for $400,000-600,000.
The rarity of known works by Early Modern women posed a challenge to organise a sale of this nature. “I wish it wasn’t so hard to find more of these paintings” said Calvine Harvey, a Sotheby’s vice president and Old Masters specialist. Across the auction house’s Old Masters sales in London, Paris and New York in 2018, only 14 of the works were by women, versus around 1,100 by men. “That shows the normal ration. To have 21 in one sale is a lot.”
Beckham is particularly inspired by the pattern of defiance she saw in the stories of these women painters. “This is becoming a family passion.” She said.
All 21 works in The Female Triumphant will be available for public view in Sotheby’s New York galleries starting Jan. 25.
Sotheby’s Master’s Week, from Jan. 28 and Feb. 1., will also include a non-selling exhibition of 60 contemporary portrait photographs by the Dutch photographer Carla van de Puttelaar, titled Artfully Dressed: Women in the Art World.