Cecily Brown is a British (But NY based) painter known for her large gestural canvases that teeter between abstraction and figuration. Although, figures will typically serve as the starting point for her paintings where she draws inspiration from vast trove of images including those from the history of art, literature, and popular culture. Her work is often compared to that of the Abstract Expressionists, like Helen Frankenthaler, Willem de Kooning, and Joan Mitchell.
Brown has been a Blue Chip artists since the 90’s when she was represented by Gagosian Gallery (before moving to Paula Copper Gallery in 2017). There doesn’t appear to be a slow down in the popularity of Brown, in fact it looks to be increasing, with Brown having just opened her mid-career retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The good news for beginner art investors, is that Brown has a few editions on the market, some for as little as $2000 and under. I think of the works as remarkably cheap, especially when you consider the edition sizes, which are typically very small runs, as well as Brown’s esteemed (and growing) profile. For example, Brown recently released a print (edition of 100) with Texte Zur Kunst for the phenomenally low price of €980. These are now being resold for asking prices over €2,000.
Why Invest in Cecily Brown?
Brown, in my opinion has mastered painting that moves between figuration and abstraction (or what she calls “breaking down the figure”). By mastering I mean that she employs the right amount of figuration so that viewers have to do a little bit of work to tease out the figures, but also the right amount of abstraction so that if you want to ignore the figures, the paintings work on a completely non-literal level too. From an artistic merit point of view, this is why I consider Brown to be an artist worthy of investment. But also, and perhaps more importantly, this versatility means that Brown can be insulated from changing market preferences between figuration and abstraction.
It’s also worth noting that Brown’s work is achieving high, but not unreasonable, prices at auction. I think Brown is the superior of Frankenthaler, as well as de Kooning and Mitchell, whose are considered some of the most important post-war American artists, with far higher respective auction records, and I think that the wider public and art world will come to realize this in time also.
For example, in March 2023, her canvas The Nymphs Have Departed (2014) sold for $4.1 million at Sotheby’s. While Brown’s work swings between figuration and abstraction, we can also look to Caroline Walker for confirmation about the enduring appeal of painters working in figuration. In March 2023, Walker’s painting Threshold (2014) sold for $1.1 million at Phillips, a record for the artist. For interest’s sake, Brown’s most expensive artwork, Figures in a Landscape 1, fetched $5.5 million in 2018.
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