Joan Mitchell, the art market’s leading female artist…

[26 Feb 2021]


The 17th most successful artist in the world (by 2020 annual auction turnover), Joan MITCHELL is above all the highest ranked female artist (after 16 men). Her annual total for last year exceeded that of hot signatures like Yoshitomo NARA (id: 171599), Yayoi KUSAMA and BANKSY. In the current health crisis, Joan Mitchell has even emerged as a safe investment with the sale of no less than 50 of her works generating nearly $71 million during 2020. This is the second best-ever annual total for this essential figure of American art.

A bridge between the United States and France

Born in Chicago in 1926, Joan Mitchell moved to New York at the age of 23 and quickly established herself as a central figure of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists. At a time when women were still marginalized in the artistic sphere, she became one of the few to join The Club, a major focal point for all the protagonists of the movement, including Willem DE KOONING and Franz KLINE. Throughout the 1950s, she developed an instinctive style, exclusively abstract, composed of rhythmic lines and superimposed fields of color. Joan Mitchell created by drawing inspiration from sources of lived emotions and specific landscapes at specific times.

“When I see the word ‘sky’, I see S-K-Y first. In my mind letters are associated with colours. That’s how I learnt the alphabet as a child. For me, S is more or less white, K is red, Y is yellow ochre. For me, the word “sky” evokes a mixture of these colours. In my head, A is green, B is blue gray, C is yellow… and so on. I imagined everything in colour. That’s why I don’t like French. The word CIEL doesn’t trigger the colours I associate with SKY: red, blue-grey and yellow.” Joan Mitchell

Her first solo exhibition took place at the New Gallery in New York in 1952. The following year, she entered the Stable Gallery. In 1955, she spent long periods in France, where she met several young artists including Sam FRANCIS and, above all, the Canadian Jean-Paul RIOPELLE with whom she shared her life until 1979. In France, she bought a property in Vétheuil offering her a magnificent view of the Seine (1967), close to a house where Claude Monet had lived. The works of this period bear witness to her love of the Ile-de-France landscape (Paris region) .

When her long collaboration with the Parisian gallery owner Jean Fournier began, her international career was already well established. She exhibited at the Venice Biennale (1958), at the Documenta II in Kassel (1959) and participated in several group exhibitions, notably at the Guggenheim and the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. In 1974, she was offered a major retrospective at the Whitney Museum, which exhibited her work again in 1992 (Joan Mitchell: Pastel), the year of her death in Paris from cancer. In 1993, the Joan Mitchell Foundation was created in New York with the aim of promoting her work and supporting the creativity of artists during their lifetimes.

The Parisian Louis Vuitton Foundation is planning a major exhibition of her work in 2022, in dialogue with work by Claude MONET. The exhibition will be an adapted version of the American retrospective soon to be held at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and subsequently at the SFMOMA in San Francisco.

Joan Mitchell: number of lots sold since 2010 in France and the United States

A hot market…

In recent years, some collectors have made a conscious decision to purchase works by female artists. Heads of Departments at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips note a real increase in demand for works specifically created by women. There seems to be a fundamental reassessment and revaluation going on. Already in 2019, Alexander Rotter, Head of the Post-War & Contemporary Art Department at Christie’s in New York, explained that the price increase on works by female artists such as Joan Mitchell and Helen FRANKENTHALER represented “a market adjustment which should have happened a long time ago”.

Mitchell’s first 7-digit result dates back to 2007 (Untitled) at Christie’s in London, but the revaluation of her work is still ongoing. For example, her diptych La Grande Vallée VII, whose price multiplied by 44 between 1989 and 2020, from $330,000 to $14.5 million. Her all-time auction record remains that hammered for her Blueberry at over $16.6 million in May 2018 (Christie’s New York). Taking into account all of her works sold and resold at auction, Artprice estimates the value accretion of her work at approximately +15% over the last 12 months. This comes on top of the +2000% increase (calculated using the same method) between 2000 and 2019 for all of her work.

Evolution of Joan Mitchell’s auction price index (2000-2020)