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5 Most Expensive Art Photographs in the World

Most Expensive Photograph #1: "Rhein II" by Andreas Gursky, 1999 - Christie's
The world of photography galleries and the fine art photography genre is glamorous, competitive, and lucrative. Attracting record sales, the space is heating up considerably. According to Francis Outred, Christie's Head of Post War and Contemporary Art Europe, there will be an uptick in photography setting new auction sales records. Here are his comments after Andreas Gursky's 1999 "Rhein II" (see photo above) sold for a record $4.3 million in November 2011, making it the most expensive photograph to date.
Photography has progressed rapidly over the past 170 years, but most dramatically in the last thirty years with the adaptation of large scale, full color images, so that the masterpieces of today stand up against most of their historical predecessors. As such, their scale, presentation, and concepts make the best works outstanding works of art which stand up against anything in history. In my opinion, this price will come to be seen as extremely reasonable in future.
Here are the highest prices paid for fine art photography (per Wikipedia):
Andreas Gursky, Rhein II (1999), $4,338,500, November 8, 2011, Christie's New York (top photo).
Most Expensive Photograph #2: "Untitled #96" by Cindy Sherman, 1981

Cindy ShermanUntitled #96 (1981), $3,890,500, May 2011, Christie's New York.
Most Expensive Photograph #3: "99 Cent II Dyptich" by Andreas Gursky, 2001

Andreas Gursky, 99 Cent II Diptychon (2001), $3,346,456, February 2007, Sotheby's London auction. A second print of 99 Cent II Diptychon sold for $2.48 million in November 2006 at a New York gallery, and a third print sold for $2.25 million at Sotheby's in May 2006.

Most Expensive Photograph #4: "The Pond-Moonlight" by Edward Steichen, 1904 
Edward SteichenThe Pond-Moonlight (1904), $2,928,000, February 2006, Sotheby's New York auction.

Most Expensive Photograph #5: "Untitled #153" by Cindy Sherman, 2010
Cindy Sherman, Untitled #153 (1985), $2,700,000, November 2010, Phillips de Pury & Co. New York.

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Reader Comments (8)

The people that paid that amount of money only wanted to buy a name the images are nothing there is not one bit of the images that says wow! or tells a story or wants you to ask questions.
May 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjohn
Those images have nothing. The first one is the most boring of them all. I really want someone to explain to me what makes that photo worth 4 million dollars. And don't tell that it's the name of the photographer. A stuffed Mickey Mouse has the name Disney on it, but I wouldn't pay 4 million dollars for it. Seems to me like they were bought by some rich people who want to impress their friends by telling them how much they paid for them.
May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMarfa
Cindy Sherman is awesome! All her pictures are self portraits. It is amazing the amount of talent she has to be able to transform herself is all these different characters, not only is she styling her shots, she takes the shots and she is in the shots. Kudos to her!!!
May 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCorina
Nice photographs.I was thrilled by seeing the pictures.
May 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterart photography
I'm just confused. I hoped to find some wisdom here on what it takes to achieve a great photo. It would be helpful, Jay, to give a professional view on why these photos are so highly valued. They are fine photos; I just can't see that they are remarkable to the tune of millions. Three million dollars is enough to take care of all my financial needs and desires for the rest of my life.
May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle Kowalski
I'm a little confused here. I thought this was about 4 million dollar photos not ones you do every week walking around with your camera phone.
May 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterexcuse
Great comment thread here; many thanks for reading! We thought that looking at photography from the angle of high-end auction sales would be an interesting twist on the usual reporting that goes on about photography (technique, gear, etc.). Fine art will always be subjective, and the old chestnut applies: "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." There are many parties who participate in auctions to "own a name" or purchase something with provenance and a distinguished pedigree. That's what these five photographs all have in common. It's not that they're exceptionally great, original, or stunning photographs and it's not that they're better than all other photographic images. It merely signifies that at a particular day in time, in a particular auction house, there were bidders who had done their research on these specific photographers and set aside money to purchase their work. Some of the new owners of these works may be private collectors while others may be corporations. You might find them hanging up in a boardroom, CEO's office, or on a living room wall. But it doesn't matter. The marketplace will always dictate the value of photographs. There is a going rate for photojournalism pieces, magazine assignments, and other jobs - but in the world of fine art, you're free to set your own price. Fine art prices have always been controversial. Look up the famous 1877 James Abbott McNeill Whistler-John Ruskin trial. Part of the examination went as follows:

Q. "Did it take you much time to paint the Nocturne in Black and Gold? How soon did you knock it off?"

Whistler: "Oh, I 'knock one off' possibly in a couple of days – one day to do the work and another to finish it..." [the painting measures 24 3/4 x 18 3/8 inches]

Q: "The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?"

Whistler: "No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime."

I rather feel glad for these photographers to have garnered such high prices for their work. Hopefully all good photographers' boats will rise on their high tides.
May 23, 2012 | Registered CommenterNYIP Editor
You know what they say about fools and their money
May 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGino Marino
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