21 November,2014:Â A floral painting by the late US artist Georgia O’Keeffe has sold for $44.4m (Â£28.8m) at auction, setting a record for an artwork by a female artist.
The piece smashes the previous record of $11.9m (Â£7.5m) for an untitled work by Joan Mitchell, set in May.
Sotheby’s in New York said the $15m (Â£9.5m) estimate on O’Keeffe’s work was shattered after an intense bidding war between two rivals.
The art auction record is $142.4m (Â£90.8m) for a Francis Bacon piece.
The British artist’s triptych, Three Studies of Lucien Freud, was sold at auction last year.
O’Keeffe, who died in 1986 at the age of 98, was celebrated for her large-format depictions of flowers which she painted as if they had been seen in close-up.
Her Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1 smashed her previous best of $6.2m (Â£3.9m) set in 2001, and was one of three works which were placed in the sale.
It was offered at auction by the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which holds a large body of the artist’s works.
The proceeds of the sale will be put towards the museum’s acquisitions funds.
What struck me about the Georgia O’Keeffe sale was not the high price paid for the work.
Nor was it the discrepancy between what the market will pay for art made by men and what it will pay for art made by women, the reasons for which have never been entirely clear.
Is it ingrained sexism, or, as Germaine Greer told me in her opinion, historically work by female artists has generally not been as good as that produced by their male counterparts?
No, what caught my eye was the institution selling the painting, which was The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Doesn’t that strike you as odd? A museum selling an artwork by the artist it was founded to represent?
I can’t imagine it happening in this country, where our museum collections are like Venus flytraps: once an artwork goes into the collection, it ain’t ever coming out (unless there are truly exceptional circumstances).
The Americans take a more strategic approach when it comes to buying and selling work in and out of institutional collections. They generally have a policy of “trading up”, whereby lesser works are sold to raise the necessary money to buy better examples from an artist’s oeuvre.
That makes sense. But does it make sense for The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to sell a painting the market – even at the original estimate of $10-$15m – considered to be of the highest quality?
The current trustees obviously think so, but I wonder if those running the museum in the future will agree?
O’Keeffe worked for much of her earlier life in New York, where she captured the city’s overwhelming architecture, but later moved to New Mexico, where she painted its huge landscapes.
Elizabeth Goldberg, Sotheby’s head of American painting, said the landmark sale “places Georgia O’Keeffe’s work in the top tier of 20th Century artists on the market internationally, where it has always belonged”.
The auction house added that her floral images “stand among the most recognisable images in both art history and popular culture”.