Victoria Beckham is backing efforts to shine a light on female artists who faced “substantial” obstacles because of their gender – saying she “identifies with women succeeding against the odds”.
Sotheby’s in New York is holding a sale of work by “fearless and groundbreaking” female artists, from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
The 14 artists pursued their passion at a time when the art world was dominated by men.
Spice Girl turned fashion designer Beckham, 44, said the theme of the sale, The Female Triumphant, “resonates strongly” with her.
“I definitely identify with women succeeding in something against the odds,” she told the Press Association.
“I certainly entered the fashion arena surrounded by people’s preconceptions and I would say that I needed a strength of mind to pursue my passion.
“These artists defied the norm of their time and I think that is what is truly fascinating about them – as well as how incredible their work is.”
Women during the 16th to 19th centuries were often excluded from apprenticeships and access to proper training.
It was deemed inappropriate for women to receive private lessons from a male artist and most cities in Europe effectively barred female artists from the life-drawing classes that were crucial for their work.
Beckham said the Female Triumphant theme “couldn’t have resonated any more strongly”.
“My own personal and brand ethos has always centred around the empowerment of women. This sale and story stands for exactly the same thing.
“These female artists … either succeeded in being recognised in their lifetimes against the odds or … are now being brought to the fore of Old Master history all this time later,” she said.
Women in the sale include Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi, born in 1593, who was raped by a tutor hired by her father and was subjected to a gruelling experience during the ensuing court case.
But she pursued her passion and her work was celebrated by the powerful families of Rome and Naples, fetching high prices.
Work by French artist Elisabeth-Louise Vigee Le Brun, who was born in 1755 and was portrait painter to Queen Marie Antoinette, will be another highlight.
Beckham, who co-hosted a reception at Sotheby’s galleries for the sale, said anyone who thinks that Old Master works are fusty and not for them should “look again”.
“They are so multi-layered and can really have an impact on you, not just visually but intellectually,” she said.
The designer, who previously displayed works from Sotheby’s 2018 Old Master Paintings auction in her London store, said: “Some of the them are just the most beautiful things to just look at. There are so many themes and ways of storytelling in the Old Masters that stand up now in a contemporary setting.”
Calvine Harvey, specialist in Sotheby’s Old Master paintings department in New York, said curators and collectors across the art world “have been addressing the gender imbalance in their collections” over the last five years.
They had been “actively investing in female artists who have historically been overlooked in scholarship and undervalued in the market relative to their male counterparts,” she said.
“However, in looking back to the Old Masters, there is still work to be done,” she added.
“In 2018 alone, Sotheby’s sold only 14 works by female Old Masters – compared to 1,100 male artists.
“It’s important to remember that the obstacles women artists of the pre-Modern era faced were substantial, and those that broke down those barriers were truly triumphant.
“It is our hope that shining a spotlight on these important artists will help to grow our knowledge of their work, expand scholarship, and deepen their impact on the ever-shifting trajectory of art history.”
Sale of works from The Female Triumphant will take place at Sotheby’s in New York from January 30 to February 1. All 21 works feature in a public exhibition on January 25.