One of American visual artist Man Ray's best-known works has made history after selling for $12.4 million at Christie’s and setting the record as the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction.
Competitive bidding helped the iconic black-and-white image from 1924, “Le Violon d’Ingres,” smash and nearly triple the previous record. Its pre-sale estimate was $5 million to $7 million, the highest estimate for a single photograph in auction history, according to Christie’s.
It was the top lot in a sale on May 14 of the Surrealist collection of Rosalind Gersten Jacobs and Melvin Jacobs. The image of model and Man Ray muse Kiki de Montparnasse juxtaposes her female curves with that of a violin — her naked back overlaid with f-notes —and is widely considered to be Ray's most famous work. Born Emmanuel Radnitzky, Ray was a key member of the Dada and Surrealism movements.
According to Christie's, the Jacobs acquired the original print from Ray in 1962. It was sold alongside other artworks, photographs, jewelry, and posters from their art collection amassed over decades. Successful fashion retailers and art collectors, the couple befriended many Surrealist artists in the 1950s and 1960s.
Melvin Jacobs, a former chairman and CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue, died in 1993 at the age of 67. His wife, Rosalind, a longtime Macy's executive, died in 2019 at the age of 94. The couple's daughter and the executor of their estate, Peggy Jacobs Bader, said in a statement prior to the sale that every piece from the collection "has a unique and intimate story behind it" and reflects the "joyful spirit of my parents' relationship."
Darius Himes, international head of photographs at Christie's, called the photo "one of the most iconic works of the 20th century," in a statement prior to the sale. "This beguiling Surrealist image is the result of a unique and hand-manipulated darkroom process. The reach and influence of the image, at once romantic, mysterious, roguish, and playful, has captured the minds of all for nearly 100 years. As a photographic work, it is unprecedented in the marketplace."
Other top lots in the auction included three works by Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte: L'autre son de cloche, which sold for $10.1 million; Eloge de la dialectique, which sold for $4.6 million; and Le coeur du monde, which fetched $2.1 million.
The previous auction record for the most expensive photograph was German artist Andreas Gursky's "Rhein II," which sold for $4.3 million at Christie's in 2011. At a mammoth six feet by eleven feet, the photograph depicts a gray stretch of the Rhine River under gray skies.