Artview: What Women Reveal in their Art 

08 Aug 2018

Women Artists – the Future of the Art Market

August is the month in which South Africans celebrate women and Aspire pays tribute to women in art by looking back at selected works that have featured prominently on our auctions since 2016.

According to the Barnebys 2018 Art Market Report, works by women artists on auction are currently the largest potential growth area in the art market. The report mined data from over 65 million lots sold at auction in the past year by more than 3,000 auction houses globally. Barnebys’ head of content Pontus Silfverstolpe made the prediction after noting significant growth in auction sales within certain price ranges, combined with demographic profiles. “We observe the rising importance of women artists”, says Silfverstolpe. “History offered fewer opportunities for women to dedicate their lives to careers with the result that the market for art by women has traditionally been far less developed than that by men.” But this is changing now. “Much more focus is now rightly being given to female talent that has either been unsung or overshadowed for political and social reasons in the past. This attention will filter through to the market seeing an increase in sales” concludes Silfverstolpe.

Women have exerted extraordinary influence on South African art, as artists, writers and as teachers. We are proud to introduce Judith Gluckman’s Self Portrait, which will feature on our upcoming SPRING Auction on 28 October in Johannesburg. The painting shows a confident and elegant woman who was not only an accomplished artist, but whose humanity extended to befriending artists like Gerard Sekoto, to whom she gave art materials and taught to paint in his first oils.

Judith Gluckman’s Self Portrait


Irma Stern boldly challenged conventional expectations of women. Her Still life with magnolias, apples and bowl (1944/49), captures her intrepid travels – often on her own – across many continents in search of subjects that stimulated her, while collecting rare articles of exquisite beauty which she included in her paintings such as this Chinese vase and Zanzibari mat. Her vision of Africa as the home and melting pot of cultures – African, European, Arab and Chinese – is perfectly expressed in this painting, which pays tribute to all these influences. An inveterate traveler, Stern ventured alone into the Congo where she spent months painting, with such pleasure in her subjects, that one can feel, in an almost tactile way, the very sensual delight she took in painting the beautiful Congolese Woman (1946) arrayed in her exquisite attire.


LEFT | Irma Stern, Still life with magnolias, apples and bowl, 1949, oil on canvas, 86.5 x 86.5 cm SOLD FOR R6 828 000

RIGHT | Irma Stern Congolese Woman 1946, gouache, 63.5 x 50.5 cm SOLD FOR R1 932 560


Maggie Laubser’s quintessentially pastoral subjects revitalized the ways in which South Africans saw the landscape, bringing her experiences of German Expressionism to bear on the creation of a fresh and unique vision that touched so many hearts.

Maggie Laubser, Landscape with Huts, Tree, Figure, Cow and a Bird, oil on board, 44.5 x 55 cm SOLD FOR R1 023 120


In 2017, Aspire became the first – and to date the only – South African auction house to offer the work of Marina Abramovic on the local market. Golden Mask (2009), with the artist’s face illuminated in gold leaf drawing and holding the spectator’s attention, celebrates Abramović, one of the leading contemporary artists in the world today, and a woman at the height of her career.

Marina Abramović, Golden Mask, 2009, framed chromogenic print, 127 x 127 cm SOLD FOR R1 477 840


Paintings by women of themselves or other women often attest to the changing and multiple roles that women have claimed and continue to redefine. Maud Sumner’s Self portrait depicts a self-assured independent woman, poised for an evening out, well aware of herself as an independent young artist in Paris, probably in the 1920s, in pursuit of a career in the art world and confident of success. Ruth Everard Haden’s Portrait of a seated woman portrays a strong image of a powerful, self-possessed, thinking and thoughtful woman, sitting confidently in her morning robes – engaging the viewer directly rather than gazing limply into her mirror.


LEFT | Maud Sumner, Self portrait, oil on board, 48 x 38 cm SOLD FOR R204 840

RIGHT | Ruth Everard Haden, Portrait of a seated woman, oil on canvas, 92 x 72 cm  SOLD FOR R625 240


South African women have also laid claim to figurative art and the genre of the nude historically reserved for men as Eleanor Esmonde-White’s Nudes, robustly attest. And artists like Diane Victor don’t shy away from the fearless and unflinching portrayal of reality.


LEFT | Eleanor Esmonde-White, Nudes, oil on canvas, 60 x 91.5 cm SOLD FOR R341 040

RIGHT | Diane Victor, Untitled (from Theatrical Character series), charcoal and pastel, 250.5 x 165.5 cm SOLD FOR R200 520


In Penny Siopis’ genre-shifting approaches to the traditional ‘women’s art’ of still life, the seductive creamy sensuality and fleshy pinkness of a slice of cake beckoning to be eaten, belies the oppressive Calvinist traditions of South Africa in the 1980s when the work was created. For Doreen Southwood, one of the few South Africans to successfully straddle the worlds of art and fashion, balance is a recurring theme. The Dancer (1997), four evocations of a dancer in movement, represent a procession of the self in constant revolution and evolution.


LEFT | Penny Siopis, Pedestal, 1982/3, relief oil on canvas with paint fragments, 122.5 x 92 cm  SOLD FOR R511 560

RIGHT | Doreen Southwood, The Dancer, 1997, bronze, steel, enamel paint and fabric, 70 x 45 x 50 cm SOLD FOR R295 568


And finally, in a bold statement that encourages a rethinking of our humanity, Marlene Dumas’ portfolio, Fog of War (2006), exposes the horrors of war through graphic images of death and suffering, accompanied by a poem that comments on the tragedies of war, the inhumane treatment of people by their fellow human beings, and the barbarism of the ‘war on terror’.

Marlene Dumas, Fog of War, 2006, digital prints on wove paper, sheet size: 45 x 35 cm SOLD FOR R227 360