The Worlds Most Expensive Photograph Ever Sold
On Saturday May 14th, 2022, an Iconic Man Ray photograph of Kiki de Montparnasse titled Le Violon d’Ingres destroyed all previous records for a photograph at auction selling for 12.4 million dollars and has become the most expensive photograph ever sold, previously claimed to be held by photographer Peter Lik. This photograph, depicting the curves of the female form infused with a hollowed stringed instrument, experienced a bidding war pushing it well past it's pre-sale estimates during a sale dedicated to the Surrealist collection of Rosalind Gersten Jacobs and Melvin Jacobs.
I am not a portrait photographer, so for added visual interest in this article I have added some of my abstract photography work instead.
Who Was Man Ray?
Man Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky; August 27, 1890 – November 18, 1976) was an American visual artist who spent most of his career in Paris. He was a significant contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements, although his ties to each were informal. He produced major works in a variety of media but considered himself a painter above all. He was best known for his pioneering photography, and he was a renowned fashion and portrait photographer. Man Ray is also noted for his work with photograms, which he called "rayographs" in reference to himself.
His Early Life
Right from the moment he came into the limelight until his death, Man Ray did not allow much of his early life to be known, even denying that he once had another name other than Ray. Man Ray was born to Jewish immigrants from Russia. He was the only child before his family was blessed with another son and 2 daughters, the youngest child was born shortly after they relocated to Brooklyn in 1897. Man Ray's family changed their surname to Ray in 1912. Ray was nicknamed Manny but changed his name to Man, and slowly started to use Man Ray.
Ray's father worked in a garment factory. He also owned a small tailoring shop outside his home, enlisting all his children from a tender age. Ray's mother, who was very passionate about tailoring, enjoyed making and designing her family's clothes. She used to make clothes from her own designs and create patchwork items out of scraps of fabrics. While Man Ray didn't want to associate himself with his family's background, this experience did leave a mark on his art work. A number of clothing and sewing related items appear at every phase of his work and in nearly every medium.
In the early period of Ray's career, he painted in the Cubist style. His first solo show at the Daniel Gallery in 1915 featured thirty paintings and a few drawings. The paintings were a mixture of semi-representational landscapes and abstract paintings of "Arrangements of Forms"; these abstract works showed his developing interest in analytical and cerebral method of working. By this time, he had more inventory of works in his studio than he could keep track of. He started photographing his paintings as documentation and experimenting with the camera as an artistic tool.
In 1929 Man Ray hired Lee Miller as an artist assistant. She soon became his lover and the subject in his photographs for three years. Together, they reinvented 'solarization', a photographic process that records images on the negative reversing dark with light and vice versa.
While trying to develop his photographs in the dark room, Ray accidentally discovered a technique called 'shadowgraph' or 'photogram', a process also known as camera-less photography using light sensitive paper. He dubbed this style 'Rayogram' or 'Rayograph'. He explored this technique for more than 40 years, in the process creating many of his most important works including two portfolio books entitled Champs delicieux and Electricite.
Though many of his famous works are in the field of photography, he worked in a variety of media, including painting, writing and film. Between 1923 and 1929 he directed multiple avant-garde short films and collaborated on films with Marcel Duchamp and Fernard Léger. He also collaborated with Paul Eluard to make the books Facile and Les Mains Libres.
Man Ray Legacy
Man Ray played a major role in Dada and Surrealist movements in America as well as in Europe. His multiple attempts to promote avant-garde art movements in New York widened the horizons of the American art scene. His serious yet quirky imagery has influenced a broad audience through different iterations of his work in pop culture. Many of his important works were donated to museums around the world through a trust set up by his wife before her death in 1991. Most importantly, his process-oriented art making and versatility have influenced a number of modern and contemporary artists, from Andy Warhol to Joseph Kosuth, who like Ray strove to continually blur the boundaries between artistic disciplines.
Right up until his death at the age of 86, he continued working on new paintings, photographs, collages and art objects. He died of a lung infection in 1976.
Christies | The Seven Highest Grossing Auctions of All Time
Previously I have written about the seven top grossing Christies auctions of all time. With the Man Ray sale, this list will now need to be modified. As you’ve seen from my other blog posts, there are a wealth of places both on the web and in person where one can procure high quality art.
But what if you’re looking for something else—something rarer, older, or more valuable? Something that even the most prestigious galleries and dealers wouldn’t be able to get their hands on—something that arguably belongs in the collection of a famous museum?
For those collectors, the best course of action open to them is to consult the auction houses. These are professional organizations built around the acquisition, appraisal, and sale of truly rare pieces of art, obtained from the finest private collections in the world. Here, even the most particular of art collectors can usually discover the pieces they’ve been dreaming about, but for those who persist even to the rarified air of this group, at the top of the pyramid sits Christie’s.
What Is Christies Auction House
Christie’s is the most prestigious and highest-grossing art auction house in the world today. It’s two centuries older than the famed Heritage Auctions and China Guardian and this past year, it brought in seven times the revenue of its older sibling Sotheby’s.
Christie’s was founded in 1766 in London by James Christie who passed the enterprise onto his son upon his death. Over the next two centuries, the organization gradually expanded, acquiring the famed galleries Leger and Spink & Son, surpassing the sales of other professional auction houses, and establishing major locations in New York, Paris, Hong Kong, and Geneva.
In recent years, Christie’s has not only led the way in acquisitions and profits, but in diversity and innovation as well. Private sales have become an increasingly large part of Christie’s portfolio, to protect buyers and sellers of high-valued art items. They have also begun to expand into the property sector since purchasing North America’s largest independent realtor network. Finally, in May, 2021, Christie’s became the first top-tier auction house to sell an NFT, accepting cryptocurrency as payment by the buyer.
What Record Will Be Broken Next?
If there is one thing for certain, it is that records are made to be broken. This sale will no doubt be overtaken by another in most likely near future, as collectors continue to seek out and spend big money on collectable works of art. Maybe the next record could be yours! :)