A recently discovered work by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1654) sold last week for a price of €4 million, or €4.7 million with fees, breaking the Baroque master’s auction record by almost double. The piece, Lucretia (1630’s), was being auctioned at the Artcurial auction house in Paris with an estimate of €600,000 to €800,000, but competition between six main bidders drove its price to new highs, smashing its high estimate.
Commenting on the state of the market for Old Masters, Mathieu Fournier, the director of Artcurial’s Old Masters department said: “Interest in Old Masters paintings is stronger and stronger, for the first time, we are seeing contemporary art collectors migrating toward older art.”
The result of this newfound interest in Old Masters more than doubled Gentileschi’s previous auction record of €1.8 million, which was set in 2017 after her major work, Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (1615-17), sold at at another Paris-based auction house. The painting made headlines after The National Gallery in London acquired it for £3.6 million, making it the first work by a female artist added to its permanent collection in over 27 years.
After many years of relative obscurity, Gentileschi has emerged as a significant historical figure in the context of the #MeToo movement, both through her personal narrative as well as her iconic works depicting female rage. Gentileschi was raped by her instructor and father’s friend Agostino Tassi early on in her career and she suffered greatly in the public eye for attempting to bring him to justice. Many of her works are autobiographical, channeling powerful women in her position to avenge the patriarchal oppression of late 16th century Papal Rome.
Her story has also highlighted some institutions’ negligence of female artists in their collections, let alone female Old Masters, whose prominence was largely overshadowed by the fame of their male counterparts. This has fuelled great interest in her work in the art market and among major institutions around the world.
The painting of Lucretia shows a strong “desire to shock, force through a point and find the viewer which is Caravaggio-esque”, Eric Turquin, Old Masters dealer and expert, said in a statement. The work is largely considered to be autobiographical, much like many of Gentileschi’s works depicting her struggle. “The story of Artemisia is just like that story [of Lucretia] except that Artemisia decided on another outcome for her life,” Fournier added.
In a sign of Artemisia’s growing prominence, the National Gallery in London announced a major exhibition of her work set to open in April 2020, bringing together 35 works from around the world to highlight her as one of the greatest painters of the post-Caravaggio era and one of very few to match the great master’s sense of drama and light work.