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 said.
“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. 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,” she said. “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.”
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 yesterday 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,” she said.