Still life with flowers by Vanessa Bell has an asking price of £425,000 at Philip Mould & Company.

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It wasn’t until the 16th edition of the seminal The Story of Art by EH Gombrich that a woman artist was mentioned and it took until 2020 for The National Gallery to hold its first major solo exhibition by a female (Artemisia Gentileschi, 1593-1653).

Earlier this year writer Katy Hessel published The Great Women Artists: The Story of Art without Men, covering artists from 1500 up to those born in the 1990s. Hessel’s book has won serious praise including from critics and artists, with Tracey Emin commenting: “Will change the history of art... thank God.” It is now a Sunday Times bestseller.

Collectors and institutions are now making a conscious effort to take important women artists seriously and ensure they are represented in collections accordingly.

The National Portrait Gallery (which reopens on June 22, 2023) announced in March that it had bought five self-portraits by women artists, with support from luxury brand Chanel, which it said would “significantly enhance the representation of women artists and sitters within our collection” forming part of its “plans to transform the National Portrait Gallery through our Inspiring People redevelopment”.


Four tall trees by Jessica Dismorr with an asking price of £25,000 at Philip Mould & Company.

Of course there are already very well-established women artists, from Modern British names Laura Knight (1877-1970), Barbara Hepworth (1903-75), Vanessa Bell (1879-1961) and Elizabeth Frink (1930-93), to further back in time such as the aforementioned Gentileschi, Mary Beale (1633-99) and Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807). But there are many more now regarded as undervalued.

Among the dealers keenly buying (and selling) in the field is Philip Mould & Company.

Mould says: “There has been a paradigm shift in the way the market assesses these things. But this is not just about buying and collecting artists just because they are women. Talent and flair, of course, are most important.

“This is about women artists of great talent who are going up in value. There are the established artists and then there are the second tier who are now being pulled up. Both the established and the unestablished artists have a good story to tell.

“This is about rediscovering talented artists who perhaps went under the radar. They are now being properly appreciated for the first time.”

‘Radical and progressive’

In terms of Modern British artists, Mould is focusing on those he sees as radical and progressive. Among those that fulfil his criteria of ‘high quality but somewhat overlooked’ are Jessica Dismorr (1885-1939) and Nina Hamnett (1890-1956).

But there is a wide variety in the market. Dealer Karen Taylor, a specialist in British women artists of the 18th-20th centuries, points out that those of the last 150 years have been at a distinct advantage. More than ever before they could be artists publicly, professionally and with the same degree of training as men.


Freya Mitton offers From the Window, Montparnasse by Evie Hone (1894-1955). The signed gouache, 13 x 9in (35 x 23cm), is available for £3200 + 4% ARR.

So it is not one-size-fits all for collectors or dealers. Andrew Sim of Sim Fine Art, for example, finds the best of the 20th century artists were those who looked to representation.

He says: “The female artists that I most admire from this period are essentially old-fashioned figurative painters, whose work is pleasing or interesting to the layperson and devoid of any ‘ism’ other than perhaps realism.

“The best female artists of the period – such as Laura Knight and Evelyn Dunbar, transcend the term ‘Modern British’. Their work is recognisably fresh and of its time without being in any sense modernist.”

While it is easiest to see the swing towards equal representation in institutions, private buyers have clearly been doing the same.

“I know a number of collectors within this field who are actively trying to achieve a balance of genders within their collections,” says 20th century British art dealer Freya Mitton. “As a result pictures by female artists have become easier to sell.”

And as at least half of the population would say, about time.