Long marginalized in histories of the era, Italian 17th-century painter Artemisia Gentileschi is now receiving long overdue attention. She broke ground as a female artist working in a male-dominated field by rendering her women subjects not as victims but as heroes. The daughter of painter Orazio Gentileschi, she had established a career as an artist by the age of 20. Known for a style that makes use of dramatic lighting, she often alluded to the violence she endured as a young woman. Amid her rise, at age 18, she survived a sexual assault by her teacher and was subsequently tortured during a highly public trial in Rome.
In 2021, Gentileschi was the subject of a sprawling retrospective featuring some 30 paintings at the National Gallery in London. The exhibition was among the largest ever devoted to the artist. Leading up to the showcase, in July 2018, the museum purchased Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria for £3.6 million ($4.7 million).
An uptick in attention from critics and art historians has fueled Gentileschi’s rise on the art market in recent years, with her paintings commanding sums that are rare for those of a female artist of any era. Works by Gentileschi rarely come up for sale; only around 40 of her known paintings reside in museum collections around the world. In 2019, her Lucretia (ca. 1630) sold for a record-setting $5.3 million in Paris. Since that sale, her records have continued to mount at international auctions.
Below, a list of Gentileschi’s top auction prices.1
Lucretia, ca. 1627
Sold for $6.1 million
In 2019, during an Old Masters sale at Paris auction house Artcurial, Gentileschi’s painting Lucretia sold for $6.1 million, more than eight times its pre-sale estimate. It depicts a Roman noblewoman who died by suicide after being raped. Gentileschi’s rendition shows a half-naked Lucretia preparing to stab a dagger into her chest. The dramatic painting came to the sale after having been newly rediscovered in a private collection in Lyon, France, where it had remained for four decades. In April 2021, the painting changed hands again, this time going to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for an undisclosed sum. “Her achievement as a painter of powerful and dramatic history subjects is all the more remarkable for the abuse and prejudice that she suffered in her personal life,” Getty director Timothy Potts told the Los Angeles Times.2
Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria, ca. 1615–17
Sold for: $2.1 million
When Lucretia set a new record in 2019, it more than doubled the artist’s previous record price at auction of €1.8 million ($2.1 million), set in December 2017 when Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria (ca. 1615–17) was sold by Paris auctioneer Christophe Joron Derem. The work went for nearly five times its €400,000 ($472,800) estimate. Portraying herself as the 4th-century martyr for whom the painting is titled, Gentileschi completed it during her stint in Florence. A similar version by the artist resides at the Uffizi Gallery. In the Paris sale, old masters dealers Marco Voena and Fabrizio Moretti won the bid for the prized work. Just six months later, the pair sold it to the National Gallery in London for a higher sum of £3.6 million ($4.8 million), making it the first work by a female artist added to the museum’s collection in nearly three decades. Questions about its history remain, however, given that painting’s ownership record is unknown prior to the 1940s. When it bought the work, the National Gallery added it to a list of works that may have been “improperly acquired” during World War II.3
Lucretia, ca. 1630
Sold for: $2.16 million
Another painting of Lucretia sold in 2018 at Dorotheum in Vienna to an Australian collection for €1.88 million ($2.16 million). The result tripled the painting’s pre-sale estimate. Before the sale, the painting had resided in the same European collection since the mid-19th century and had never before been exhibited publicly. Gentileschi was known to return to certain subjects throughout her career; Lucretia, an ancient Roman woman who died by suicide after being raped, is also depicted in the most expensive work by the artist ever to have sold on the block.4
Triumph of Galatea, ca. 1650
Photo : Christie’s
Sold for: $2.1 million
Gentileschi’s Triumph of Galatea sold at a Christie’s Old Masters sale in November 2020 for $2.1 million, against an estimate of $1 million. The painting depicts a scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which the water nymph Galatea is carried in a scalloped shell by two dolphins through the river Acis. It was the second-most expensive Old Masters lot of the year, behind Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Lucretia, which sold from the Brooklyn Museum’s collection for $4.2 million. The sale was a signal that Gentileschi’s market is now rivaling that of brand-name male artists who have long dominated the Old Masters category. Before its sale last year, the painting was purchased at Christie’s in 2007, when it was attributed to Bernardino Cavallino. It wasn’t until 2012 that historians reattributed the work to Gentileschi.5
Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy
Sold for: $1.17 million
In June 2014, Gentileschi’s Mary Magdalene In Ecstasy was offered at Sotheby’s in Paris. Until the painting came to sale, it was presumed to have been lost. Before resurfacing on the market, the only record of the painting was a black-and-white photo of it dating back to sometime in the early 20th century. A provenance for Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy—which has rarely been seen publicly—revealed that the painting had remained in private hands for centuries. The work was rediscovered in a collection in the south of France. It sold for €865,000 ($1.17 million), nearly tripling its pre-sale estimate.
Courtesy: Art News