'There's never been a great woman artist'

So says the critic Brian Sewell, and the art market seems to agree, with men's work commanding millions more at auction. By Andrew Johnson

Women artists face prejudice and discrimination, with their works selling for a fraction of the price of their male counterparts, one of the world's leading art dealers claimed yesterday.

Iwan Wirth, who represents the French-American artist Louise Bourgeois, whose giant spider, Maman, became a landmark outside Tate Modern in London last year, said the huge gap in prices between the likes of Lucian Freud and Bourgeois was "a constant source of disappointment".

Sales in London last week generated a fresh round of head-spinning prices: a Freud for £11.8m and a Jeff Koons sculpture for £13m. By comparison, the South African-born artist Marlene Dumas became the most expensive living woman artist at auction on Tuesday when her work The Visitor sold for £3.2m at Sotheby's.

"It's a constant source of disappointment to see the discrepancy in prices between outstanding female artists and their male counterparts," Mr Wirth said.

"An artist's gender should have nothing to do with their market value. I see this happen with the major artists we represent, such as Bourgeois, Joan Mitchell and Eva Hesse, who are exceptionally high-ranking artists."

This week saw a new record price for the female British artist Bridget Riley, who sold for £2.5m at Sotheby's. Bourgeois herself set the record for a living female artist in May this year when one of her spiders sold in Paris for £2.3m.

The Russian avant-garde artist Natalia Goncharova, who died in 1962, holds the record for the most expensive female artist sold at auction, with her Les Fleurs selling for £5.5m at Christie's in June. Yet this pales in comparison with the £43m made by Bacon's Triptych, 1976 in May – the most expensive piece of contemporary art sold at auction.

Mr Wirth complained that, while even the best-known female artists sell for around £2m-3m, lesser male artists make more money at auction: "Surely the art market, of all places, should be free of such prejudices. I was delighted to see an important painting by Dumas sell at Sotheby's for £3.2m. However, one has to compare this with works from the same sale, which included a Bacon that sold for £13.7m, a [Jean-Michel] Basquiat for £5m and a Richard Prince for £4.2 m. Female artists are the bargain in today's markets."

The writer and sociologist Sarah Thornton, whose book on the art market will be published later this year, said that only 30 per cent of works in museums and galleries are by women, while the top 100 artists at auction in 2007 includes only four women, with the highest at No 49.

"You cannot equate the monetary value of art with the aesthetic worth of the artist," she said. "One would expect the art world to be more egalitarian. It was only in 2004 that a living woman, Marlene Dumas, broke through the $1m barrier. At the top end of the market, the people who can afford to spend a lot are entrepreneurial men. And they buy entrepreneurial artists – Warhol, Hirst, Koons – artists they perhaps identify with.

"Second, it's about volume. Women don't tend to have factories of assistants churning out work. If you want to boost an artist's price you need to bring their work to auction again and again. Women don't usually work in that way."

But the art critic Brian Sewell pointed out that, historically, women have done better in the art world than elsewhere. Throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, women artists were praised by male contemporaries. The likes of Artemisia Gentileschi, born in 1593, and her contemporary Fede Galizia were considered great painters of their day.

"The art market is not sexist," Mr Sewell said. "The likes of Bridget Riley and Louise Bourgeois are of the second and third rank. There has never been a first-rank woman artist.

"Only men are capable of aesthetic greatness. Women make up 50 per cent or more of classes at art school. Yet they fade away in their late 20s or 30s. Maybe it's something to do with bearing children."

Mr Wirth, however, believes things could change. "The problem has been that female artists have been historically excluded from museums," he told The Art Newspaper. "Now there are more female curators and a new generation of male curators rewriting art history."

Pilar Ordovas, the head of contemporary art at Christie's, also rejected claims the market is sexist. "There are many male artists who sell for the same as women," she said. "It is too simplistic to suggest that gender or age determines price."

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
tvGrace Dent on The Crimson Field
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal