In celebration of International Women's Rights Day (March 8, 2022) Artalistic has combed through the annals of art history and carefully selected what we believe to be the top female artists of all time in order to bring them out of the shadow of male artists and proudly showcase their lives and work. To this day, despite much advancement, this imbalance is still being redressed, bringing their life’s work to the limelight is our way of reviving their art, keeping their legacies alive and inspiring younger generations of women around the world. (Illustration: Propped, Jenny Saville, 1992.)
The top female artists on the art market
A look at past records from auctions houses shows a definite trend supporting a male-dominated art world, this hegemonic control over the art market is slowly turning on its head as we see a definite shift towards an increase in demand for pieces by contemporary female artists, some of whose pieces have been sold for prices that could bring envy to their male counterparts.
Brush up on your art history and find out more about the women who have changed the art world forever with Artalistic – one of the leading online platforms for buying and selling contemporary art.
A contemporary British painter born in 1970 in Cambridge, Jenny Saville has gained international acclaim for her stylized nude portraits focused on depicting her interest in the imperfections of flesh, with all of its societal implications and taboos. Her distinctive and visceral treatment of the human form often earns her comparisons with the realist and expressionist painter Lucian Freud, grandson of the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. Jenny Saville once stated of her work: "I paint flesh because I’m a human being. If you work in oil, as I do, it comes naturally. Flesh is the most beautiful thing to paint." Saville’s figurative paintings have reinvented the limits of this genre by raising questions about society’s perception of the body.
A member of the Young British Artists (YBAs) alongside prestigious contemporaries such as Damien Hirst, Saville’s most famous painting is a large-scale oil on canvas intitled Suspension (2002 - 2003), which is reminiscent of Willem Kooning's abstract expressionism.
In November 2018, she became the world's highest-rated living female artist when her painting Propped, an oil on canvas created in 1992, was auctioned at Sotheby's for $12.4 million. The canvas depicts a self-portrait that brings the female stereotypes of beauty into question. By painting the female nude with such candor, this piece allowed her to insert herself into the male canon of Titian and Rubens.
Cady Noland was born in 1956 in Washington D.C and now works as a successful artist in New York City. Her work explores the American Dream turned nightmare, mining the interstices between violence and celebrity by producing a Warholian vision that bristles with the grit and barbarity upon which the nation was founded. While reading the tabloids, Noland stated, “that you consume all these celebrities each week, then you turn them into trash. This trashing helps to dampen people’s anger over their situation or their own place in the hierarchy of importance.”
Daughter of the famous Color Field painter Kenneth Noland, she assembles the “raw stuff of America” – its trash, its quantity - into sculptures, paintings and installations. She seeks to create a sense of stillness and fear in her work.
Cady Noland’s work is highly sought after in the art market. Her piece Oozewald, created in 1989, set the record for the most expensive artwork by a female artist at Sotheby's, selling at auction for $6.6 million in 2011.
Her silkscreen on aluminum with printed cotton flag entitled Bluewald fetched an even higher sum. It sold in 2011 at Christie's for $9.7 million. This piece features Lee Harvey Oswald – the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy – portraying him in graphic detail moments after he was shot.
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist who was born in 1929 in Matsumoto. Her work transcends two of the most important art movements of the second half of the twentieth century: Pop Art and Minimalism through the use of several media - painting, sculpture, film, installations, performances, literary works fashion, design and interventions with existing architectural structures.
She moved to New York in 1958 and established herself as an important avant-garde artist. She became an important member of the Pop Art movement alongside Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Eva Hesse. Kusama explored infinity and self-negation through the use of polka dots and repetitive patterns.
Kusama now lives voluntarily in a psychiatric asylum in Tokyo, which has been her home since 1977. She develops extremely personal art in order to express her powerful inner world. One that is filled with psychological distress, panic attacks, hallucinations and suicide attempts. AS she later confessed in her autobiography, “When I am in front of the canvas painting dots, I end up filling the table and the floor and even my own body. The net expands itself to infinity and I forget myself.”
Her immersive installation Infinity Mirror Room (1965) and Fireflies on the Water (2002) are some of her most famous pieces. Yayoi Kusama’s work continues to break new auction records, her painting White No. 28 (1960) was auctioned for more than $7 million in 2014 at a Christie's sale.
The American filmmaker and photographer Cindy Sherman is a contemporary master of socially critical photography. She became famous for stepping into her own frame, using herself as the main character in mysterious staged photographs in her black and white series entitled Untitled Film Stills (1977 - 1980). She was the very first female photographer that considered herself worthy of taking a leading role in her work, rather than forcing herself into a role in the male-dominated art world.
Born in 1954 in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, Cindy Sherman moved to New York in the late 1970s, where she still resides. Her consideration of femininity as a social construct brings her work closer to that of Barbara Kruger, famous for her conceptual photographic montages.
Dubbed the "Queen of the Selfie," Cindy Sherman has embodied a multitude of personas through her self-portraits, reflecting the fears and obsessions of Western society. The series Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980) was sold at Christie's for $6.7 million.
Marlene Dumas: one of the top famous female artists of the 20th & 21st centuries
Marlene Dumas, was born in 1953 in Cape Town, South Africa. She is a famous female artist who is known for her disturbing images of women and children. After completing a BA in Visual Arts at Cape Town University she moved to the Netherlands where she lives and works to this day.
Marlene Dumas creates mainly figurative paintings filled with psychological tension in an attempt to confront themes of politics, identity love and shame.
The Visitor, an oil on canvas inspired by Munch and Degas depicting six women seen from behind in a dark and gloomy room, sold in 1995 at Sotheby's for $6.3 million.
Artalistic’s top 5 famous female artists
We hope that our list of top famous female artists has left you feeling inspired and empowered! Artalistic is one of the leading online platforms for selling and buying contemporary art by well-established and emerging artists. Feel free to browse our virtual galleries, featuring hundreds of paintings, photographs, sculptures, drawings and limited edition prints.