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 to be sold at auction.
The sale came after a drawn-out bidding period that lasted nearly 10 minutes during Christie’s New York’s 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 sparred for the vintage edition. Eventually, after bids climbed to unforeseen heights, the rare print hammered at a price of $10.5 million to applause, going to Morel’s bidder and well outpacing its $7 million high estimate.
The print of the iconic Man Ray photograph, which depicts his 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, making it valuable in the eyes of photography experts.
The result surpassed the previous auction record for a photograph by a factor of three times — 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, which was 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 is the top lot to be offered from the holdings of New York collectors Rosalind Gersten Jacobs and Melvin Jacobs, fashion retailers who had deep ties to Surrealist circles. The Jacobs bought Le Violon d’Ingres directly from Man Ray in 1962 and have held on to it ever since. Gersten Jacobs, a longtime Macy’s executive, died in 2019 at the age of 94.