Auction  October 8, 2018  Chandra Noyes

Jenny Saville Earns Title of Highest Price Ever Paid for a Living Female Artist

Courtesy Sotheby's

Jenny Saville, Propped, 1992

At Sotheby’s Collection of David Teiger auction in London on Friday, artist Jenny Saville set a new record for the most ever paid at auction for the work of a living female artist. Her 1992 self-portrait Propped sold for $12.4 million, far exceeding the pre-sale estimate of $3.9-5.2 million. A young British artist known for her massive figural paintings of women and her expressive use of paint, Propped is one the most significant works from Saville's oeuvre.

Standing at seven by six feet, the towering canvas presents an intimate and unflinching view of the female body. Defying beauty standards and the tradition of the male gaze in painting, Propped is a realistic portrayal of the female body, painted from the female perspective. The subject (Saville) looks at herself in a foggy mirror, through text she has written on the glass: a quote from “When Our Lips Speak Together”, an essay by the French feminist Luce Irigaray, which appears in reverse to the viewer. The text, which addresses how women's communication and self-representation should not serve the patriarchal system, is inscribed in the paint itself and appears to be written on the flesh as well.

Created when she was still a student, Propped was the painting that made Saville famous. Purchased by Charles Saatchi in 1992, it was included in his 1997 exhibition Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection. The controversial exhibition drew protestors to the Royal Academy of Art and included fellow Young British Artists Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, and Chris Ofili. The artists' reflection of the reality of modern life was honest and lacked concern for taboos, making Sensation a hit, with record-setting visitor attendance and a media frenzy.

Peter Doig, Buffalo Station I, 1997-1998
Courtesy Sotheby's

Peter Doig, Buffalo Station I, 1997-1998

Peter Doig, Buffalo Station II, 1997-1998
Courtesy Sotheby's

Peter Doig, Buffalo Station II, 1997-1998

Collector and Philanthropist David Teiger bought Propped from Gagosian Gallery in London in 2004, who had previously acquired it from Charles Saatchi. Part of a 25 item auction to benefit the Teiger Foundation for the Support of Contemporary Art, Propped was sold amongst other great works by contemporary artists, such as Maurizio Cattelan, John Currin, and David Hockney. The other tops lots in the History of Now: The Collection of David Teiger were from Scottish painter Peter Doig. The two canvases Buffalo Station I and II (1997-8) were sold for $9.8 and $5.8 million, respectively.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra is managing editor for Art & Object.