Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, new star of figurative painting



“I learned to paint by looking at painting and I still learn by looking at painting. In this sense, history serves as a resource. But the biggest attraction for me is the power that paint can exert over time”. (interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist in Futura section of Kaleidoscope).


Born into a family with Ghanaian origins, this 45 year-old English artist is still very much in demand and still proudly defends her strong belief in the power of figurative painting. Over the past decade, her work has fascinated the art world and her market prices are commensurate with this interest.


Casework, (2011)

Exceptional portraits

Through her personal vision, Lynette YIADOM-BOAKYE has redefined the parameters of Contemporary painting and portraiture. Heavily inspired by the great portrait painters of the 19th century like Degas and Manet, it is distinguished by the speed and spontaneity of execution (no more than one day per canvas) and by the depiction of exclusively black characters. Using fairly classic representational conventions such as dark backgrounds (traditionally used to better bring out the light complexions of the figures), she highlights their unsuitability for black models, underscoring the extent to which historical Western painterly practice actually hinders diversity.
Intriguing, both familiar and mysterious, her portraits invite viewers to project their own interpretations, while raising profound questions about identity and representation.


A perfect career…

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye already enjoys excellent visibility in many of the world’s most prestigious museums. As of 2001, before even graduating from London’s Royal Academy, her work began to be shown all over the world thanks to support from major galleries. Faye Fleming & Partner (formerly Arquebuse) and Michael Stevenson galleries hosted her first monographic exhibitions in 2009 in Cape Town and Geneva. Represented by the New York gallery Jack Shainman since 2010, these three galleries – all focused on promoting artists from African and African diasporas – contributed significantly to Yadom-Boakye’s international appeal. Indeed, in addition to their ambitions to promote African artists on the international art market and to present their work in exhibitions abroad, these galleries encourage exchanges with creators from all over the world. In 2013, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2013, and London’s Serpentine Gallery hosted a solo exhibition of her work two years later. In 2017, New York’s New Museum did likewise and, in 2019, she was selected to occupy the first Ghana pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

At the end of November 2022, the Tate Britain will host a monographic exhibition entitled Fly in League with the Night, the largest retrospective of her work ever mounted. Initially scheduled for May 2020, the show had to be postponed several times due to the covid crisis. In the meantime, her work was been shown at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf before stopping at Luxembourg’s Mudam, and, finally after long months of waiting, her paintings have been sent to the British institution. The upcoming retrospective brings together 67 paintings and covers 20 years of creation, including works created during the pandemic that have never been exhibited before. Portraits of women, dancers and androgynous silhouettes will adorn the walls of the museum before continuing their journey to the Guggenheim in Bilbao. It will be a unique opportunity to admire all of these profound works that the art world is scrambling to acquire.

Her meteoric ascension on the art market


Capture d’écran du 2022-11-06 15-24-21

Evolution of the artist’s auction turnover


Today, ranked in the top 200 of the world’s top-selling artists at auction, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s emergence since her auction debut in 2013 has been spectacular. Mainly sold in the United States and the UK, her paintings (exclusively oils) sell for several hundred thousand dollars and occasionally exceed the one million threshold… especially in the last two years.

diplomacy III

Diplomacy III (2009)

In 2013, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s second painting offered at auction, Diplomacy II, already sold for over $230,000! Last May her Diplomacy III (2009) from the same series fetched nearly $2 million at its first auction appearance during a Christie’s prestige evening sale in New York. Measuring 2 x 2.50 meters the canvas depicts a group of important black personalities apparently celebrating a major historical event. The title accentuates this first impression and yet the specific identity of each character is left deliberately vague. All are dressed in dark suits except for two figures: a Sudanese man in a white robe whose face is turned away and a woman in a pink top staring at the viewer. The inclusion of a woman in the spectrum of power suggests a critical view of post-colonialism and the role a woman might have had. It would appear to be a reference to the African independence movement of the 1960s. Curator Okwui Enwezor has also compared her Diplomacy to photographs of East African leaders at a summit in 1967 taken by photographer Marion Kaplan. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye Diplomacy’s ambition seems to paint a portrait of our society as of now while preserving its universal character.

The growing desire of the art world to promote female creation and that of institutions to promote black artists partly explain its spectacular success. If in the past an artist’s rating was built up over time, today the performances are surprisingly precocious and the works of young artists (born after 1945) suddenly go from a few thousand to several million dollars.