Jenny Saville Takes Title of Most Expensive Living Female Artist

Her 1992 nude self-portrait “Propped” sold for $12.4 million. But the record-breaking price lags behind the amount paid to the men’s holder of the title

The Painting That Propelled Jenny Saville to Global Prominence

Last week, Jenny Saville’s 1992 painting “Propped” sold for a grand total of $12.4 million, propelling the English artist to become the most expensive living female artist.

As Anny Shaw at the Art Newspaper reports, eight bidders sought to purchase the fleshy seated nude self-portrait, which is overlaid in mirror script with a translated quote from French feminist Luce Irigaray's essay “Ce Sexe Qui N'en est Pas Un,” which reads: "If we continue to speak in this sameness-speak as men have spoken for centuries, we will fail each other…"

“Propped” was once owned by British advertising tycoon Charles Saatchi and came to the auction as part of the collection of the late art collector David Teiger. Over the next few months, at least $100 million worth of art from his vast trove of contemporary art will be auctioned off to endow the Teiger Foundation, which supports contemporary art and artists.

Saville’s work sold for more than twice its estimated value. Nazy Vassegh, a London-based art advisor, tells Shaw the high price wasn’t just a blip. In recent years, collectors have begun reevaluating women in the arts. “Female artists are being given greater exposure across the board: in museums, gallery shows, art fairs and auction houses,” she says. “It’s definitely an important moment–and about time.”

Saville, who is 48, first came to prominence in the early 1990s as part of a loosely affiliated group of painters known as the Young British Artists. Her career has focused primarily on figure painting, usually large-scale portraits exploring the female form from a female gaze. Saville isn’t a portraitist. Instead, using thick, heavy brush strokes, her work exaggerates and distorts elements of the human body. She’s informed by studies of obese women, observations of plastic surgery, cadavers, meat and classical works by masters of the human form like Titian and Tintoretto. The result is a catalogue of work that challenges the perception of the human body, while also nodding toward past works of art and contemporary representations of the female form. “Propped” was part of Saville’s degree show when she graduated from the Glasgow School of Art. She only received her first UK solo exhibition in 2014, according to Amah-Rose Abrams, who considered Saville’s rise in a piece for Artnet News in 2016.

According to Judd Tully of ArtNews, Saville’s “Propped” surpasses Cady Noland’s 1989 sculptural relief “Bluewald,” which sold in May 2015 for $9.8 million. However, despite increased appreciation of women artists' works, Saville’s sale is still is nowhere near the prices paid for art by living men. For some perspective, it’s expected that a painting of a swimming pool by David Hockney will sell for at least $80 million when it goes on the auction block in November, surpassing the current male record for a living artist, Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog (Orange)” which sold in 2013 for $58 million.

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