World’s 27 Most Expensive Photographs Ever Sold {NSFW}

Insights & Thoughts June 26th 2013 6:17 PM 10 Comments

After today’s sale at the famous Sotheby’s Auction House in London, photography has taken another step towards cementing the art form as a medium of major historic and cultural significance. With several pieces gaining price tags well over the $1 million mark, even the naysayers can’t deny that photography has a marked impact on art collections throughout the world. Photography has distinct features and techniques that cannot be found in any other art form. Thankfully, art collectors see those distinctions and appreciate them.

So what makes a photograph valuable?

wall-installation

Like any work of art, the story behind the image (think Mona Lisa’s theft), the artist themselves, supply and demand (are there 100 prints, or only 5 in the world?), and perceived value established by previous works being sold for large sums. All these factors will effect the overall cost of a piece at auction.

You may notice several images by the same photographer on the list below.

World’s Most Expensive Photographs

1. Andreas Gursky: “Rhein II” (1999)
$4,338,500
 Christie’s New York, November 2011

The Rhine II 1999 by Andreas Gursky born 1955

Chromogenic color print face-mounted to Plexiglas, image: 73 x 143 in. (185.4 x 363.5 cm)
Number one from edition of six.

“Gursky removed some of the elements that were damaging to the composition, like people and buildings, claiming that ‘a fictitious construction was required to provide an accurate image of a modern river.’ “

Suggested Reading: Andreas Gursky: Photographs from 1984 to the Present

 

 

2. Cindy Sherman: “Untitled #96″ (1981)
$3,890,500
 Christie’s New York, May 2011

sherman-untitled-96

Chromogenic color print, image: 24 x 48 in. (61 x 121.9 cm)
Number seven from an edition of ten.

Sherman was known to avoid titling her work, in order to allow the interpretation to come from the viewer’s own imagination. “Christie’s noted in the auction presentation: ‘Who is this girl?Is she scheming to find true love, or the brokenhearted victim of a failed love affair?'”

Suggested Reading: Cindy Sherman

 

 

3. Jeff Wall: “Dead Troops Talk” (1992)
$3,666,500 
Christie’s New York, May 2012

jeff-wall-dead-troops-talk

Transparency in lightbox, image: 90¼ x 164¼ in. (229.2 x 417.2 cm.)
Number one from an edition of two plus one artist’s proof.

Wall was known to create imagined scenes with a core of truth.’Dead Troops’ is a montage made in 1992, as a vision after an ambush of a Red Army patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter of 1986.

Suggested Readings: Jeff Wall: Figures & Places–Selected Works from 1978-2000

 

 

4. Andreas Gursky: “99 Cent II Diptychon” (2001)

$3,346,456 Sotheby’s London, February 2007

gursky-99cent-dyptic

Chromogenic color prints face-mounted to Plexiglas, images: 81 x 134 1/4 in. (205.7 x 341 cm.) each
This work is from an edition of six.

One of the first high-price photo purchases, this diptych actually caused a little controversy when it was auctioned off.

 

 

5. Andreas Gursky: “Chicago Board of Trade III” (1999)
$3,298,755 Sotheby’s London, June 26, 2013

chicago-board-trade-iii

Chromogenic color print face-mounted on Plexiglas in artist’s frame, image: 79 x 112 1/4 in. (201 x 285 cm.)
Number 2 from an edition of 6.

“German photographer Andreas Gursky set forth a stunning image of our contemporary world of high-tech industry, international markets, big-time sports, fast-paced tourism, and slick commerce.”

Suggested Reading: Andreas Gursky

 

 

6. Edward Steichen: “The Pond – Moonlight”, (1904)
$2,928,000
 Sotheby’s New York, February 2006

steichen-the-pond-moonlight

Multiple gum bichromate print over platinum, image: 16 1/16 by 19 11/16 in. (41 by 50.8 cm.)

“One of only a hand-full left in existence, this image is beautiful example of the Pictorialist style of the late 1800s and early 20th century. Steinchen’s hand-layering technique embodied the painterly style.”

Suggested Reading: Edward Steichen: Lives in Photography
Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand: Masterworks from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

7. Cindy Sherman: “Untitled #153” (1985)
$2,700,000 Phillips de Pury & Co. New York, Novemeber 2010

cindy-sherman-untitled

Chromogenic color print, image: 67 1/4 x 49 1/2 in. (170.8 x 125.7 cm)
This work is from an edition of 6.

Suggested Reading: Cindy Sherman

 

 

8. Andreas Gursky: “Chicago Board of Trade” (1997)
$2,355,597 Sotheby’s London, June 26, 2013

gursky-chicago-board-trade

Chromogenic color print in artist’s frame, image: 57 x 79 1/2 in. (145 x 202 cm.)
From edition of 6.

Suggested Reading: Andreas Gursky

 

 

9. Unknown: “Billy the Kid” (Fort Sumner, New Mexico) (1879-80)
$2,300,000 Brian Lebel’s Old West Show & Auction, June 2011

billy-kid-tintype

Tin-type, image: 2×3 inch (5.08×7.62 cm)
Only authenticated photograph of the historical figure.

As the only authenticated image of Billy the Kid, this tin-type photo embodies the American West and one of its largest personalities.

 

 

10. Dimitry Medvedev: “Tobolsk Kremlin” (2009)
$1,750,000 Christmas Yarmarka, Saint Petersburg, January 2010

Tobolsk_Kremlin_by_Dmitry_Medvedev

“Sold at a private fund raising auction, this photograph taken by Medvedev, chose a scene steeped in Russian tradition. His photograph, taken from the air, shows the white stone walls and towers of the Kremlin in Tobolsk.”

 

 

11. Edward Weston: “Nude” (1925)
$1,609,00 Sotheby’s New York, April 2008

edward-weston-nude

Gelatin silver print, image: 5 1/8 by 9 1/4 in. (13 by 23.5 cm.)

After years working in his studio in California, Weston moved to Mexico to explore his experiment with ‘straight photography’ in a series of nude studies of Tina Modotti, his lover and collaborator.

Suggested Reading: Edward Weston: One Hundred Twenty-five Photographs

 

 

12. Alfred Stieglitz: “Georgia O’Keeffe – Hands” (1919)
$1,470,000 Sotheby’s New York, February 2006

steiglitz-hands

Palladium print, image: 9 5/8 by 7 5/8 in. (24.5 by 19.5 cm.
numbered ‘OK 25 E’on reverse

“This photograph is part more than three hundred photographs of the painter Georgia O’keeffe, Stieglitz’s wife.”

Suggested Reading: Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand: Masterworks from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

 

13. Alfred Stieglitz: “Georgia O’Keeffe – Nude” (1919)
$1,360,000 Sotheby’s New York, February 2006

alfred-steiglitz-georgia-o-keeffe-nude-1919-alfred-stieglitz

Palladium print, image: 9 3/8 by 7 5/8 in. (24 by 19.2 cm.)

Suggested Reading: Stieglitz: Camera Work

 

 

 

14. Thomas Struth: “Pantheon, Rome” (1990) (1992 print)
$1,253,208 Sotheby’s London, June 26, 2013

Thomas Struth-Pantheon- Rome

Chromogenic color print, image: 74 x 95 in. (188 x 241.3 cm.)
Number 9 from edition of 10.

“It is claimed that Thomas Struth’s photographs are about making order visible. And with the help of these images, the viewer finds themselves better able to grasp some of the many and varied faces of reality.”

Suggested Reading: Thomas Struth: Photographs 1978-2010

 

 

15. Richard Prince: “Untitled (cowboy)” (1989)

$1,248,000 
Christie’s New York, November 2005

richardprince-cowboy

Ektacolor print, image: 50 x 70 in. (127 x 177.9 cm.)
Number one from an edition of two plus one artist’s proof.

” ‘Cowboy’ is a re-photograph of a Sam Abell picture and is the first of its kind to raise over $1 million.”

Suggested Reading: Richard Prince

 

 

16. Richard Avedon: “Dovima with elephants” (1955)
$1,151,976 Christie’s Paris, November 2010

white-dress-avedon-elephant-picture

Gelatin silver print, mounted on linen, printed 1978, image: 85 3/8 x 65 5/8in. (216.8 x 166.7cm)
Signed in pencil, stamps copyright the photographer, ‘All rights reserved’, title and date (rear mounting)

“Avedon’s iconic photograph of Dovima, one of the most famous American supermodels was originally published in Harper’s Bazaar. There were two photographs from the shoot, this one and another where Dovima’s dress is black. However, the negative from the “white version” mysteriously disappeared and only one print was ever made.”

published version:

Dovima with elephants, Evening dress by Dior, Cirque d'Hiver, Pa

Suggested Reading: Richard Avedon: Photographs 1946-2004

 

 

17. Edward Weston: “Nautilus” (1927)
$1,105,000 Sotheby’s New York, October 2007

edward-weston-Nautilus

Gelatin silver print, image: 9 3/8 by 6 5/8 in. (23.8 by 16.8 cm.)

 

 

18. Andreas Gursky: “Kuwait, Stock Exchange II” (2008)
$1,014,354 Sotheby’s London, June 26, 2013

gursky-kuwait-stock

Chromogenic color print face-mounted on Plexiglas, image: 82 1/2 x 112 1/2 in. (210 x 285.5 cm.)
Number 3 from an edition of 6.

Suggested Reading: Andreas Gursky

 

 

19. Peter Lik: “One” (2010)
$1,000,000 Anonymous Collector, December 2010

peterlik-one

Ilfochrome hand-print

“This image, resembling an impressionist painting, was taken on the banks of the Androscoggin River in New Hampshire.There was only one print ever made.”

 

 

20. Jeff Wall: “Untangling” (1994)
$1,000,000 printed and sold AUD 2006

jeffwall-untangling-1994

Color cibachrome transparency, light box, image: 81.54 x 94.88 in. (207.1 x 241.0 x 26.2 cm)

Suggested Readings: Jeff Wall: Figures & Places–Selected Works from 1978-2000

 

 

21. Andreas Gursky: “Tokyo, Stock Exchange” (1990)
$959,234 Sotheby’s London, June 26, 2013

gursky-tokyo-exchange

Chromogenic color print in artist’s frame, image: 50 1/2 x 65 1/2 in. (128.5 x 166.5cm.)
Number 4 from an edition of 4.

Suggested Reading: Andreas Gursky

 

 

22. Joseph Philibert Girault de Prangey: “113 Athènes, Temple de Júpiter” (1842)

$922,488 
Christie’s London, May 20th 2003

113, Athènes, Temple de Jupiter olympien pris de l'est (1842),

Daguerreotype, image: 7½ x 9½in. (18.9 x 24cm.)

“Girault de Prangey was a French draughtsman and photographer whose works are extremely valuable as they are the earliest surviving visual documents of archaeological places such as Syria or the Acropolis.”

 

 

23. Gustave Le Gray: “The Great Wave, Sete” (1857)
$838,000 
Sotheby’s London, October 1999

GustaveLeGray-great wall

Alubmen print from two collodion glass negatives, image: 13 ¼ x 16 ¼ in. (33,6 x 41,3 cm.)

“Touted as the Monet of photographers, Le Gray’s image represents how photography began to understand itself as painterly while also exploring its own unique traits.”

Suggested Reading: Gustave Le Gray: 1820-1884

 

 

24. Andreas Gursky: “Hong Kong, Stock Exchange (Diptych)” (1994)
$744,063 Sotheby’s London, June 26, 2013

gursky-hong-kong

Chromogenic color prints in artist’s frames, image: 49 1/2 x 73 1/2 in. (126 x 187 cm.) each
Number 1 from an edition of 5.

Suggested Reading: Andreas Gursky

 

 

25. Eugene Atget: “Joueur d’Órgue” (1898-89)
$686,500 Christie’s New York, April 2010

Eugene Atget- Joueur d’Órgue

Gelatin silver chloride print, image: 8¾ x 6 7/8in. (22.8 x 18cm.)

“Though Atget did not see his work as art, his photographs have continued to inspired modern street photography; many labeling him as the grandfather of contemporary street art and photojournalism.”

Suggested Reading: Paris Changing: Revisiting Eugene Atget’s Paris

 

 

26. Robert Mapplethorpe: “Andy Warhol” (1987)
$643,200 
Sotheby’s New York, October 2006

Robert-Mapplethorpe-andy-warhol

Unique platinum print on linen with 4 silk panels, image: overall 42 x 42in. (106.7 x 106.7cm.)

“American artist Robert Mapplethorpe is one of the key figures in the contemporary photograph, portraying personages such as Patti Smith, Peter Gabriel or Andy Warhol. The work portraying Warhol was created 2 years before Mapplethorpe’s death.”

Suggested Reading: Mapplethorpe

 

 

27. Ansel Adams: “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” (1941, printed in 1948)
$609,600 
Sotheby’s New York, October 2006

ansel-adams-moonlight

Gelatin silver print, image: 14 3/8 by 19 1/8 in. (36.5 by 48.6 cm.)

One of the most prolific and influential landscape photographers of the 20th century, Adams founded the f64 group and was known for his development of the “Zone System” and complex printing techniques that gave the images an almost metallic appearance when viewed up close. To really appreciate this work, I suggest seeing it up close and personal.

Suggested Reading: Ansel Adams in the National Parks: Photographs from America’s Wild Places

I’ve had the honor of being able to view some of these pieces up close, and it is unfortunate that the computer screen cannot portray the sheer beauty of the printing processes used on many of them. As a work of art, it is not just what is depicted, but how the medium is handled that adds to the combination of shape, color, composition, and form, which ultimately draws the auction crowd.

So what do you think about the prices that photographs are starting to garner in art auctions?

Until Next Time . . .

Stay Inspired ~ Jules

Thanks to Photography Talk for sharing their original list.

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About

is a Southern California based Conceptual Artist and Photographer. Her work has been featured in several print publications and selections can be seen in local gallery exhibitions. Connect with her on Facebook and Google+.

10 Comments

  1. Peter Freeman

    no images on the page… tried more than one browser as well, nothing loads.

  2. as

    one image loaded, and it was shit.

  3. mlecz

    Good ad, nothing else. http://www.ted.com/talks/rory_sutherland_life_lessons_from_an_ad_man.html

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  5. Ahmad Amin

    #11 is missing a zero in the price. “$1,609,00 Sotheby’s New York, April 2008″

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    See Modern Art by Aubrey Thomas Goodman.
    That is real art.

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  9. Ben Perrin

    The only one worth it was Billy the Kid due to the historical significance, age and rarity of such a photo. Number 10 and 16 were good as well. The others were crap.

  10. Rafael Steffen

    One day Mario Testino work will be Worth hundreds of Thousand dollars.

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