14. Yayoi Kusama, White no. 28

Yayoi Kusama, White No. 28, 1960. Image: Christie's Yayoi Kusama, White No. 28, 1960. Image: Christie's

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (1929-) is the mastermind behind some of contemporary art's most ubiquitous and Instagrammable concepts. Her prolific oeuvre, which melds pop art influences, sculpture, bright colour, geometric abstraction and innovative installation, has infiltrated contemporary culture and cemented her as a visual pioneer. She holds fourteenth place on this list but holds third place for the world's most expensive living female artists after her work White No. 28 sold at Christie's in 2014 for nearly $7.1 million (£5.59 mil).

13. Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, 1788. Image: Sotheby's Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, 1788. Image: Sotheby's

Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun was an immensely successful Rococo portraitist in the 18th and 19th centuries, commissioned to paint European royals, most famously Marie Antoinette, at a time when the field was limited to female artists. With the $7.2 million (£5.67 mil) sale of the Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, an Indian diplomat, at Sotheby's on 30 January 2019, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun became the most expensive female Old Master.

12. Frida Kahlo, Dos Desnudos en el Bosque (La Tierra Misma)

Frida Kahlo, Dos desnudos en el bosque (La tierra misma), 1939. Image: Christie's Frida Kahlo, Dos desnudos en el bosque (La tierra misma), 1939. Image: Christie's

It's difficult to imagine a list of the leading artists without the iconic Frida Kahlo (1907-1954). Her Dos Desnudos in el Bosque (La Tierra Misma) sold in 2016 at Christie's for $8 million (£6.3 mil). The work, signed and dated 1939, represents a dreamlike love scene that imbues the Mexican landscape with elements of surrealism in colour and form.

11. Camille Claudel, La Valse

Camille Claudel, La valse, 1892. Image: Sotheby's Camille Claudel, La valse, 1892. Image: Sotheby's

The French artist Camille Claudel (1864-1943) worked and lived with Auguste Rodin for several years, but never came to the same renown as her lover. Mental illness led her to destroy her sculptures before she started with new ones, and for the last thirty years of her life she resided in a mental hospital. In 2013, her sculpture La Valse (1892) for $8.4 million (£6.62 mil).

10. Tamara de Lempicka, Le Rêve (Rafaëla sur fond host) and La Musicienne

Tamara de Lempicka, La Musicienne, 1929. Image: Christie's Tamara de Lempicka, La Musicienne, 1929. Image: Christie's

Since 2011, Polish-born modernist artist Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980), who was primarily known for her portraits, has qualified for the list of the most expensive female artists after Le Rêve (Rafaëla sur fond host) was sold at Sotheby's for $8.5 million (£6.7 mil). She then received a new personal record in 2018 when La Musicienne sold at Christie's for $9.1 million (£7.17 mil).

9. Cady Noland, Bluewald

Cady Noland, Bluewald, 1989. Image: Christie's Cady Noland, Bluewald, 1989. Image: Christie's

American Cady Noland (1956-) held the record for world's most expensive living female artist when Bluewald was sold for $9.8 million (£7.72 mil) at Christie's in 2015. The work had sold at Sotheby's four years prior for $6.6 million (£5.2 mil) and was already the artist's most expensive work. The daughter of Colour Field artist Kenneth Noland, she describes herself as "the American nightmare," as her art grapples with the subjects of death, celebrity, violence and social ambition. 

8. Agnes Martin, Orange Grove

Agnes Martin, Orange Grove, 1965. Image: Christie's Agnes Martin, Orange Grove, 1965. Image: Christie's

Agnes Martin (1912-2004) is in eighth place with her work Orange Grove which sold for $10.7 million (£8.43 mil) at Christie's in 2016. Agnes Martin is often described as a minimalist American artist, but she referred to herself as an abstract expressionist.

The lines in Orange Grove define the outline of a series of small cells that geometrically divide the image surface. The orange lines that extend vertically and horizontally create a seemingly boundless surface of infinite space.

7. Natalia Goncharova, Les Fleurs

Natalia Goncharova, Les Fleurs, 1912. Image: Christie's Natalia Goncharova, Les Fleurs, 1912. Image: Christie's

Russian avant-garde artist Natalia Sergeevna Goncharova (1881-1962) was a painter, scenographer, costume designer and illustrator, but came to be known for her futuristically inspired works. At Christie's in 2008, her work Les Fleurs sold for just over $10.8 million (£8.51 mil).

6. Berthe Morisot, Après le Déjeuner

Berthe Morisot, Après le déjeuner, 1881. Image: Christie's Berthe Morisot, Après le déjeuner, 1881. Image: Christie's

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was active in the second half of the 19th century and a contemporary of artists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet (she was also married to Manet's younger brother, artist Eugène Mane). Together they constituted the inner circle of Impressionism. Morisot's motif almost exclusively depicted the bourgeois woman's private and social sphere and her style was reminiscent of Monet's and Degas' way of playing with light and colour. In 2013, her work Après le Déjeuner (1881) sold at Christie's for just over $10.9 million (£8.59 mil).

5. Lee Krasner, The Eye is the First Circle

Lee Krasner, The Eye is the First Circle, 1960. Image: Sotheby's Lee Krasner, The Eye is the First Circle, 1960. Image: Sotheby's

During her lifetime, Lee Krasner (1908-1984) received less attention than she deserved because she was married to renowned artist Jackson Pollock and was arguably in his larger than life shadow. However, the artistic couple were inspired by each other and Krasner's departure from cubism influenced Pollock's early painting. In fact, Krasner who was one of the pioneers of action painting, the method which Jackson Pollock later promoted and for which he is best known.

In 2019, Lee Krasner's work The Eye is the First Circle sold for $11.6 million (£9.14 mil), cementing her as one of the most expensive female artists at auction.

4. Jenny Saville, Shift and Propped

Jenny Saville, Propped, 1992. Image: Sotheby's Jenny Saville, Propped, 1992. Image: Sotheby's

Jenny Saville (1970-) is the most expensive living female artist at auction. In November 2018, history was written when her oil painting Propped sold at Sotheby's for $12.4 million (£9.77 mil). The fleshy and voluptuous self-portrait that challenges the stereotypes of female beauty came from the collection of former MoMA director David Teiger.

But it was not the first time Jenny Saville's works had reached high prices at auction. Already in 2016, Shift had been sold at Sotheby's for $9 million (£7.09 mil), breaking the artist's previous record of $2.8 million (£2.21 mil).

3. Joan Mitchell Untitled, Blueberry and 12 Hawks at 3 O'Clock

Joan Mitchell, Blueberry, 1969. Image: Christie's Joan Mitchell, Blueberry, 1969. Image: Christie's

When Christie's held a Post-war and Contemporary Art auction in the spring of 2014, a nameless work by Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) sold for just over $11.9 million (£9.37 mil), which was then the highest price ever paid for a female artist at auction. This oil painting, created by the artist in 1960, is very representative of her abstract expressionist work.

In May 2018, a new record was set for the artist when Blueberry sold for $16.6 million (£13.08 mil) at the same auction house, and just five months later, 12 Hawks at 3 O'Clock sold for $14 million (£11.03 mil).

2. Louise Bourgeois, Spider

Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1996-7. Image: Christie's Louise Bourgeois, Spider, 1996-7. Image: Christie's

In 2011, Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010) beat the record for the most expensive work by a woman ever with Spider (labeled LB 2/6 97), which achieved $10.7 million (£8.43 mil). In 2015 she beat her own record when another copy of Spider (LB 3/6 MAF 1997) sold at the same auction house for $28.1 million (£22.14 mil). Then, in 2019, she smashed her last record with another Spider (1996), which became the most expensive sculpture by a contemporary female artist, selling for $32 million (£25.21 mil). Gracefully perched in a threatening pose, Spider seems poised to attack at any moment, while one of the legs stretches forward to reach its prey. Triggering a panel of emotions ranging from childish reverie to primary fear, the spider is a deeply personal creation for Bourgeois, who has associated the arachnid with the maternal figure.  

Louise Bourgeois initially studied painting only, but came to sculpture on the advice of Fernand Léger. She got her big break with a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1982, which was also the museum's first solo exhibition of a female artist.

1. Georgia O'Keeffe, Jimson Weed / White Flower no. 1

Georgia O'Keeffe, Jimson Weed / White Flower no. 1, 1932. Image: Sotheby's Georgia O'Keeffe, Jimson Weed / White Flower no. 1, 1932. Image: Sotheby's

In 2014, Jimson Weed / White Flower No. 1 by Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986) sold for $44.4 million (£34.98 mil) at Sotheby's, crowning her the most expensive female artist – a title which has not been threatened since.

O'Keeffe is mainly known for her paintings depicting flowers and plants rendered in lush colours and zoomed-in forms. She was noticed in 1928, when six of her flower paintings were sold for $25,000 (about $317,000 or £250,000 in 2019 terms), which was the highest paid amount for a work by an American artist at this time.

Find more final prices for these female artists in our realised prices bank