We are back from the Lunar New Year holiday and will kick the year of the snake off with a top 10 list of the most expensive photos ever sold. This was triggered by someone who mentioned that one of Peter Lik’s photos sold for $1 million (the 15th most expensive ever sold). Not knowing who Peter Lik was, I got to Googling, and one thing led to another. It’s fascinating that photos can sell for such high prices, as there’s probably only 2 or 3 that I would hang on my walls, but I guess that is the world of fine art. I’m sure they are more impressive in person, seeing them printed very large. Anyways, without further adieu… Note: this list is current as of February 2013.
#1 Rhein II – Andreas Gursky (1999) $4.3 million
The most expensive photo ever sold is a grey river beneath an overcast sky, taken by Andreas Gursky (who has two on this list). It was shot in 1999 and sold in 2011. Interestingly, Gursky photoshopped a factory and some people walking dogs out of the image. I am scratching my head…
#2 Untitled #96 – Cindy Sherman (1981) $3.9 million
This self portrait was the world’s most expensive when it sold for nearly $4 million in 2011. New York art dealer Philippe Segalot was the “winner” at this auction, outbidding another art dealer.
#3 Dead Troops Talk – Jeff Wall (1992) $3.7 million
Jeff Wall’s conceptual photo of a battlefield of dead Soviet soldiers talking to one another is one of the more compelling on this list. The attention to detail is outstanding, and very gruesome. See parts of the image up close here.
#4 99 Cent II, Diptychon – Andreas Gursky (2001) $3.3 million
Like Gursky’s first photo on this list, this one was also digitally altered, to compensate for perspective distortion. 6 copies were made, and 2 of them sold for over #2 million. It’s probably our favorite in this top 10 list. Gursky can probably retire now after all his sales…
#5 The Pond/Moonlight – Edward Steichen (1904) $2.9 million
The oldest photograph on the list, sold in 2006, was one of the earliest color photographs, and only 3 copies exist. It also gets my nod for being one of the best on this list, and looks more like a painting than a picture.
#6 Untitled #153 – Cindy Sherman (1985) $2.7 million
Another self-portrait from Sherman making the list, proving that her conceptual series of portraits was no fluke, and fits the bill for art collectors. She is one of the most celebrated self-portrait photographers in the world, challenging the role the representation of women in society.
#7 Billy the Kid – Unknown (1880) $2.3 million
The only known photograph of famous outlaw Billy the Kid, a black and white reverse “tintype” image, sold in 2011 to a collector of American West artifacts. The photograph is the size of a credit card.
#8 Tobolsk Kremlin – Dmitry Medvedev (2009) $1.8 million
This rather straight forward by the current Russian Prime Minister fetched nearly $2 million in an auction for charity. The structure was built in the early 18th century. Medvedev is an avid photographer, who took this shot from a helicopter.
#9 Nude – Edward Weston (1925) $1.6 million
This famous American photographer, who had photographic aspirations from an early age, initially started shooting nudes of his wife. Eventually he expanded, shooting dozens more, becoming lovers with many of them, to his wife’s suspicion.
#10 Hands – Alfred Stieglitz (1918) $1.5 million
This portait is one of many hundreds taken and printed by Stieglitz of his lover. Initially attracted by her drawings, he invited her to New York, gave her studio space, and the rest is history. He was a perfectionist who shot the same scene over and over again, using the finest printing technologies available.