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Brushing up: The rise of female artists

Art collectors are turning away from the traditional faces and names that have dominated galleries and seeking new perspectives on the world

2 min read


A year doesn’t seem to pass without some price record being broken at auction, but these outstanding prices can hide a volatile track record for prices in art.

Our Coutts Passion Index – which has tracked the performance of passion assets since 2005 – shows that returns on fine art have been weak since the 2008 financial crisis. 2018 was another tough year as fine art showed an overall -0.4% fall in value compared to the previous year.*

The Coutts Passion Index also sheds light on how variable returns can be across different segments. Old masters and 19th century art performed well in 2018, but the category is down about -32% over the 13-year life of the index. In contrast, post-war and contemporary art has offered the strongest long-term return, up 84% since 2005 despite a -1.6% fall in 2018.

Trends: greater recognition for female artists

A key trend within contemporary art has been a greater recognition for female artists. 2018 saw a wave of extraordinary and record-breaking prices for artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Julie Mehretu and Jenny Saville, whose work set a new record for a living female artist at auction in October 2018.

Art by women is one of the fastest rising and most rapidly expanding fields for collectors. Gallery owner and collector Victoria Miro, has long been a proponent of female artists and firmly believes that art by women is on the rise. We asked her which female artists are making a big impression on the art world today.


Under the spotlight: Chantal Joffe

Award-winning London based artist Chantal Joffe first came to Victoria’s attention over 20 years ago.

As Victoria tell us: “I first saw Chantal’s work at the New Contemporaries exhibition at Tate Liverpool in the spring of 1996. I was immediately drawn to her spontaneity and to her beautiful brush marks. Even though she had only recently graduated from the Royal College of Art, she showed a facility with paint that was dynamic and very exciting.”


Joffe has since enjoyed a growing reputation for her witty and provocative portraits and figurative art. She often depicts women or girls sometimes in groups, but more recently in iconic portraits.

Her stunning portrait Blonde Girl – Black Dress, won the Royal Academy’s Wollaston Prize 2005.

The judges described it as “an incredibly strong and striking painting... There was no debate about the winner, the decision was reached unanimously.”


Chantal Joffe, Blonde Girl - Black Dress, 2005. Oil on board. 243 x 182 x 6.3cm. © Chantal Joffe. Courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro.

Victoria acquired this landmark portrait, and it’s a decision that’s brought her much joy ever since: “I have this work in my personal collection and, as a result, I have spent quite a lot of time with it,” she says. “It is very intense, very direct. It has a strong impact.”

“While the headline numbers for art were down again this year, there’s still reason to cheer for collectors. Victoria’s insight reveals that there are pockets of success shining through – such as in her case with female artists – and our report also focuses on a vibrant contemporary art scene.”
Mohammad Syed, Head of Asset Management, Coutts

Three more artists to look out for

In a sign of both her eclectic taste, and also the eclectic styles of female artists currently producing work, Victoria cites three more women whose art she admires.

  • Njideka Akunyili Crosby: Nigerian-born artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby creates densely layered paintings in a precise style that conjures the complexity of contemporary experience.
  • Howardena Pindell: Working since the 1970s across figurative, abstract and conceptual art, Howardena Pindell has created a complex and nuanced body of work that addresses intersecting issues such as racism, feminism, violence and exploitation.
  • Celia Paul: Celia Paul makes intimate depictions of people and places she knows well. From 1977 to 2007 she worked on a series of paintings of her mother, and since then has concentrated on painting her four sisters, as well as a number of close friends.

Putting a price on it?

Mohammad Syed, Head of Asset Management at Coutts, explains how the Passion Index taps into the joy, and not just the finances, of our clients’ hobbies: “While the headline numbers for art were down again this year, there’s still reason to cheer for collectors. Victoria’s insight reveals that there are pockets of success shining through –such as female artists - and our report also focuses on a vibrant contemporary art scene.

“But ultimately intrinsic value is only a very small part of passion asset investing,” he continues. “It can be very hard to quantify the joy that great art can bring, and it’s a special thing that’s unique to each person. That said, when it comes to the crunch and financing is needed, we’re here to help our clients pursue their passions to the fullest.”

If you would like to find out more about the Coutts Passion Index, please ask your private banker or wealth manager for a copy of the latest edition.

* Methodology:

The Coutts Passion Index is a total return index comprising many of the objects our clients own , from trophy houses to wine, fine art and stamps. It shows how the value of each component has changed, and also reflects cost to now. At an aggregate level, it provides a broader story on how non-financial assets perform.

The index uses four categories of fine art (Impressionist and Modern Art, Old Master and 19th Century Art, Post-War and Contemporary Art and Traditional Chinese Works of Art) derived from the Sotheby’s Mei Moses Art Indices. The Sotheby’s Mei Moses indices are based on prices achieved at auction in US dollars. These price indices are repeat-sales estimators, which are calculated once a year. The indices were rebased to 100 in 2005, having previously been based at 1.

Read more about the Coutts Passion index 2019


When investing, past performance should not be taken as a guide to future performance. The value of investments, and the income from them, can go down as well as up, and you may not recover the amount of your original investment.




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