Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres (1924), a famed photograph depicting a nude woman’s back overlaid with a violin’s f-holes, sold for $12.4 million Saturday—setting a record as the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction.
The sale came after drawn-out bidding that lasted nearly 10 minutes during a Christie’s New York auction dedicated to Surrealist art.
Led by auctioneer Adrien Meyer, two bidders on the phone with Christie’s New York and Paris-based photographs specialists Darius Himes and Elodie Morel-Bazin, respectively, sparred for the vintage edition. The bids eventually climbed to unforeseen heights, and the rare print hammered amid applause at a price of $10.5 million, Morel’s bidder taking it well beyond its $7 million high estimate.
The print, which depicts Ray’s muse Kiki de Montparnasse, is a rare one in that it is considered an original photographic copy. It was made around the time its corresponding negative was first produced, enhancing its value in the eyes of photography experts.
The result surpassed the previous auction record for a photograph by a factor of three—set in 2011 when Andreas Gursky’s 1999 landscape Rhein II sold at Christie’s for $4.3 million. The sale also shattered the previous record for a photograph by Man Ray set in 2017, when an original edition of Noire et Blanche (1926) sold for $3 million during a Christie’s sale in Paris.
Ahead of the sale, Himes, Christie’s international photographs specialist, called the work “unprecedented in the marketplace.”
The photograph was the top lot offered from the holdings of New York collectors Rosalind Gersten Jacobs and Melvin Jacobs, fashion retailers who had deep ties to Surrealist circles. The Jacobses bought Le Violon d’Ingres directly from Man Ray in 1962. Gersten Jacobs, a longtime Macy’s executive, died in 2019 at the age of 94.