Why is women’s art valued less than men’s art? “Recalculating Art” documentary finds out

There’s a massive gender pay gap in the world of art valuation.

In fact, paintings by women sell for a tenth of the price as paintings by men, a new BBC Radio 4 documentary finds.

How much do women’s paintings cost vs. men’s paintings?

In “Recalculating Art,” journalist Mary Ann Sieghart explores how women’s art is “literally undervalued.” She interviews artist and author Helen Gorrill, who did an analysis of 5,000 paintings and found that paintings by men sell for ten times the price of what paintings by women sell for.

The most expensive painting ever bought was Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, which sold for $450 million. But the most expensive painting by a woman sold for less than a tenth of that — a painting by Georgia O’Keefe, which sold for $44.4 million, according to The Guardian.

This 1-10 ratio still occurs with paintings from contemporary artists. “It’s the most shocking gender value gap that I’ve come across in any industry at all,” Gorrill said.

And what’s more, when a man signs his painting, the value of the painting goes up; when a women does, the value goes down.

Why the pay gap?

“The dice were loaded” against women artists, Frances Morris, director of Tate Modern, says in the documentary.

“Women artists have fared very poorly because there’s been an unconscious collusion between the marketplace, art history and the institutions,” Morris says. “And, of course, convention and history were framed by patriarchy.”

Sieghart cites the example of E.H. Gombrich’s “The Story of Art,” which is one of the bestselling art books of all time, but only briefly mentions one female artist.

The good news

The good news is museums and collectors are beginning to recognize and remedy this gap by buying more art pieces by women. Prices for art by women are “currently rising 29% faster than for art by men,” Sieghart writes in The Guardian.

“There’s still a very long way to go until female artists earn anything like the same as male ones,” the documentary concludes. “But at last we are moving in the right direction.”

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