Barbara Hepworth: one of the world’s top selling women artists


By becoming the second most valuable woman sculptor after Louise Bourgeois, Barbara Hepworth also establishes that more than 10 female artists now exceed $10 million at auction.

At 17, Barbara HEPWORTH was already determined to become a sculptor and she went to study at the College of Art and Design in Leeds on a scholarship. In 1921 she continued her training at the prestigious sculpture department of the London’s Royal College of Art where she met Henry Moore. It was the era of the first ‘direct carvings’, a technique she subsequently perfected in Italy between 1924 and 1926. Back in England, her works were exhibited alongside works by her husband J. Skeaping and she sold her first sculptures.

In 1930 Hepworth came into contact with other artists and was influenced by the abstract paintings of Ben Nicholson. She moved from figurative representation towards a freer conception of form and color. Three years later, the work of Constantin Brancusi inspired her imagination. Other decisive contacts followed with artists like Joan Arp, Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky, Alberto Giacometti and Alexander Calder. Rich in discoveries and creative advances, the 1930s was also a period of growing notoriety for Hepworth thanks to several exhibitions in various countries.

In 1950, Hepworth represented Britain at the 25th Venice Biennale and she became an artistic ambassador of her country. Commissions poured in and the Tate Modern bought her sculpture Bicentric Form (1949). In 1956, following the advice of her galleries and in order to meet demand, she began to produce her works in bronze, actively contributing to the early stages of the casting process (making the plaster molds of her works). She also inaugurated the first international exhibition of Contemporary Sculpture at the Rodin Museum in Paris. In Europe she was celebrated as a central figure of new sculpture and she received a number of honors around the world including the First Prize of the 5th São Paulo Biennale, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Birmingham in 1960. In 1963, she received a prize from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the Tokyo Biennale, and was appointed Commander of the British Empire by Elisabeth II in 1965.

Barbara Hepworth’s annual auction turnover in USD millions (copyright


Women artists whose works have fetched 8-digit results (in USD)

Last year, Barbara HEPWORTH became one of the very few female artists to have crossed the $10 million threshold at auction when her The Family of Man: Ancestor II (1970) – a bronze statue almost three meters tall, cast in 1974 and edited in four copies – almost doubled its $4 – 6 million estimate to fetch $11.5 million at Christie’s 20th Century Art sale in November.

The new record for this impressive and rare piece is all the more remarkable as it makes Hepworth the second most valued female sculptor after Louise BOURGEOIS, and, along with Julie MEHRETU’s record also obtained in 2023, it was also one of the ten 8-digit results hammered during 2023 for female artists, a first in art auction history.


Present value of the work The Family of Man: Ancestor II (1970). Artprice Indicator®


Babara Hepworth’s market began to readjust around ten years ago and in 2016 she joined one of the most significant rankings in the art market, our Top 100 global artists by annual auction turnover. Since then, Hepworth’s prices have evolved fast enough to bring her close to the Top-50, a rare thing for a female artist. In 2023, she was ahead of Jean Dubuffet, Keith Haring and Richard Prince after the sale of 74 works during the year, including the famous The Family of Man: Ancestor II. At the end of 2023, the sale of her works at auction had generated $35 million compared with less than a million annually at the beginning of the 2000s. In the space of a generation, her annual turnover has therefore multiplied by 35, and the progression may well not be over…

The first woman artist to cross the $10 million threshold at auction was Nathalie GONTCHAROVA, the innovative Russian painter, founder, with her husband Mikhail Larionov, of Rayonnism and decorator of Diaghilev’s Russian Ballets. In 2008, her painting Les fleurs (c. 1912) set a world record for a female artist by selling for $10.8 million. She became the only woman artist valued at such a price level. Fifteen years later, there are twelve thanks to a significant acceleration in 2023 with ten works by women artists having exceeded $10 million, which had never happened before.

Nathalie Gontcharova, Flowers (c. 1912). $10.8 million, Christie’s London, 24 June 2008

Women artists with at least one auction result above $10 million:

  1. Nathalie GONTCHAROVA (since 2008)
  2. Louise BOURGEOIS (since 2011)
  3. Berthe MORISOT (since 2013)
  4. Joan MITCHELL (since 2014)
  5. Georgia O’KEEFFE (since 2014)
  6. Agnes MARTIN (since 2016)
  7. Jenny SAVILLE (since 2018)
  8. Lee KRASNER (since 2019)
  9. Tamara DE LEMPICKA (since 2019)
  10. Frida KAHLO (in 2021)
  11. Barbara HEPWORTH (in 2023)
  12. Julie MEHRETU (in 2023)