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Top 20 Female Artists Fetch $1.8 Billion; Mitchell Leads

"Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue" by Georgia O’Keeffe. Source: The Metropolitan Museum of Art via Bloomberg

Aug. 6 (Bloomberg) -- American painter Joan Mitchell is the best-selling female artist of all time by auction revenue.

Works by Mitchell (1925-1992), the second-generation Abstract Expressionist, fetched $239.8 million in sales from 1985 through May 31, 2013, according to figures compiled by Bloomberg from Artnet database.

The report lists 20 top-selling women artists. A second report includes the 20 biggest earners among living female artists.

During the tracking period, 646 artworks by Mitchell sold at auction, including a 1960 canvas that fetched a record $9.3 million in 2011.

While auction prices have increased in recent years, they trail those of men. Andy Warhol, the market leader in 2012, tallied $380.3 million in auction sales during that year alone.

“When you are walking into a serious collector’s home, it’s more common to see a Joan Mitchell painting than it was five, six years ago,” said Suzanne Gyorgy, global head of art advisory and finance at Citi Private Bank.

Combined, the top 20 women artists sold $1.8 billion of art.

Second on the list is Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), an American Impressionist whose 1,098 works at auction brought $136.5 million.

Kusama’s Polka Dots

Third is Yayoi Kusama, an eccentric Japanese octogenarian known for psychedelic colors and polka dots, tallied $127.7 million in auction revenue.

Agnes Martin (1912-2004), the painter of nearly monochrome canvases, scored fourth, with $115 million in sales. She beat Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), who came in fifth with $114.9 million in auction revenue.

Polish art deco painter Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980), whose chillingly glamorous works are collected by Madonna and Jack Nicholson, came in sixth. Russian avant-gardist Natalia Goncharova (1881-1962), whose auction record is $10.9 million, scored seventh.

Surprise appearances on the list include South Africa’s figurative painter Irma Stern (1894-1966). Her 1945 canvas of an Arab priest in white robe sold for $4.9 million in 2011 and propelled her onto the list at No. 11, while Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908-1992), whose abstract canvases seem to hover in the past, was No. 15.

American Abstract Expressionist Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) slipped in at No. 20, right after China’s Zhou Sicong (1939-1996), whose work mixed realism and calligraphy.

Click here to see the complete list.

Living Artists

The undead list was topped by Kusama, whose prices have increased by about 880 percent since 2002.

Cindy Sherman follows with $89.9 million in auction revenue from the sale of 1,232 artworks. Her record of $3.9 million was achieved in 2011.

Bridget Riley, 82-year-old British painter of geometric optical abstractions, ranked third.

Brazil’s Beatriz Milhazes, whose prices reached $2.1 million in 2012, tallied $19 million, scoring seventh, ahead of American veterans Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger.

Click here to see the complete list.

Muse highlights include Broadway box office and books.

-- With assistance from MaryAnn Busso in New York. Editors: Manuela Hoelterhoff, Jeremy Gerard.

To contact the reporters of this story: Katya Kazakina in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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