Most Expensive Photographs

Most Expensive Photographs – Picture-Perfect Price Tags

Today, images are said to “make the world go around”, and as such, form part of our experience of the world on the digital world and internet. In this article, we will introduce you to the top 15 most expensive photographs ever sold on auction, which includes works made by some of the world’s best photographers of all time. What is the most expensive picture to date, and what do we know about these 15 priciest photos? Keep reading to learn more about these fascinating images that have sold for millions! 



Unveiling the Top 15 Most Expensive Photographs Ever Sold

You have surely heard about the world’s most famous and expensive paintings that are valued at up to hundreds and millions of dollars today, however, what about the most expensive photographs? A picture has the power to convey a million words, and as such, some of the world’s most famous images have equally been valued and sold for up to millions of dollars.

In fine art, determining the value of photographs can be a challenge to most artists since one has to consider a variety of factors that determines an image’s value.

From framing, conceptualization, emotional resonance, and composition to design choices, use of color, and technical quality, placing a value on images is a complex process. Below, we will dive into a list of the top 15 most expensive photographs ever sold on auction that will give you an idea of the kinds of images and concepts that have captured the attention of private collectors.


Le Violon d’Ingres (1924) by Man Ray: $12.4 Million

Artist Name Man Ray (1890 – 1976)
MediumGelatin silver print
Dimensions (cm)29.6 x 22.7
Where It Is HousedJ. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, United States
Sale Price$12.4 million

An icon of photography, Man Ray, was one of the most celebrated figures in 20th-century Surrealist photography. Ray’s famous photograph Le Violon d’Ingres was inspired by his favorite painter, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who was fond of playing the violin in his spare time. For this composition, Ray included his girlfriend and model, Kiki de Montparnasse, who posed in the nude with her back facing the viewer.

The photograph sold for an astounding $12.4 million in 2022, making it the most expensive photograph ever sold.

After Ray printed the image, he also drew on the iconic f-holes on Montparnasse’s body to highlight his relationship with the model and draw a comparison between Montparnasse’s torso and the body of a violin. The title of the work also complements the image and blatantly compares Montparnasse’s body to that of a musical instrument, such that it objectifies her. However, many critics continue to view Ray’s photograph as a display of the artist’s fascination with metamorphosis, which mirrored Ingres’s interests in anatomy.


The Flatiron (1904) by Edward Steichen: $11.8 Million

Artist Name Edward Steichen (1879 – 1973)
MediumGum bichromate over platinum print
Dimensions (cm)47.8 × 38.4
Where It Is HousedThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, United States
Sale Price $11.8 million

Most Expensive Photograph Ever SoldThe Flatiron (1904) by Edward Steichen; Edward Steichen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Second, on the list is this well-known photo titled The Flatiron, which was shot in 1904 and printed later in 1909. The photograph was captured by Edward Steichen, who exhibited the work at the International Exhibition of Pictorial Photography. Steichen was inspired by the work of James McNeill Whistler, as well as popular Japanese woodcut styles, which moved him to create a chromatic depiction of a twilight scene, which was reproduced in two other color variants.

This famous image was sold on auction in 2022 for $11.8 million, which was a massive increase from its original estimated price of $3 million.

The title of the work derived its name from the 1902 Flatiron building, which was a well-known building in New York at the turn of the century that inspired many photographers. For the color, Steichen adopted the use of gum bichromate to add color to a scene shot during winter. One can note that the significance of the image was also connected to the legacy of the building as an iconic structure of the city that was also described as “the Parthenon” of New York.


Phantom (2014) by Peter Lik: $6.5 Million

Artist Name Peter Lik (1959 – Present)
MediumMonochrome print
Dimensions (cm)Unavailable
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection
Sale Price $6.5 million

Sold anonymously for a massive $6.5 million, this expensive photograph titled Phantom was published by the Australian photographer Peter Lik, who skyrocketed to fame in 2014. The black and white print showcases the spectacular landscape of the Antelope Canyon in Arizona, which features a beam of light that makes the image appear ghostly in the cavernous setting. The photograph was purchased by a private collector.

However, there are many concerns over the sale of the image since many have questioned its value considering that the landscape that it featured was a popular tourist destination and many people may have photographed the same spot.


Rhein II (1999) by Andreas Gursky: $4.3 Million

Artist Name Andreas Gursky (1955 – Present)
MediumC-print mounted to acrylic glass
Dimensions (cm)190 x 360
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection
Sale Price $4.3 million

Third in rank is Rhein II, which was created by globally renowned German photographer Andreas Gursky in 1999. Gursky is widely associated with his use of digital manipulation and large-scale immersive images that become surreal worlds of their own. Rhein II was sold to an anonymous buyer at an auction at Christie’s in 2011 for $4.3 million, which was around double the estimated price. The image has since been described as an unforgettable and Contemporary landscape that showcases the “gray Rhine under equally gray skies”.

Of interest is the fact that this photograph previously held the title of the most expensive picture in the world, however, it was overtaken by Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres in 2022.


Doge (2005) by Atsuko Satō: $4 Million

Artist Name Atsuko Satō (1962 – Present)
Dimensions (cm)Unavailable
Where It Is HousedDogecoin
Sale Price $4 million

Doge is one of the most famous images that are easily recognizable by most people who are acquainted with Dogecoin, the famous cryptocurrency. The cute image portrays a Shiba Inu dog named Kabosu, whose image was posted in 2010 by Atsuko Satō. The image quickly became a meme after it was posted and skyrocketed to fame in 2013 as the meme of the year. The meme also inspired the cryptocurrency Dogecoin to completely rebrand, which further made the image incredibly famous.

In 2021, the image was sold for an astounding $4 million as a non-fungible token.


Spiritual America (1981) by Richard Prince: $3.9 Million

Artist Name Richard Prince (1949 – Present)
MediumEktacolor print
Dimensions (cm)60.9 x 50.8
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection
Sale Price $3.9 million

This iconic image by Richard Prince is one of the most expensive images that reminds one of Prince’s reputation for criticizing the authenticity and authority of photographic images. Spiritual America is an example of appropriated imagery, which Prince recreated following Marcel Duchamp’s approach to “creating new thought for an object”.

The image was inspired by a 1923 photograph shot by Alfred Stieglitz of a gelded Horse’s hind side, which was also a social critique of America’s culturally repressed society of the early 20th century.

Prince was part of the Pictures Generation of artists who leveraged photographic procedures to expose the modern-day themes of authorship, antipathy, and authenticity between low and high art. As such, Prince began exploring popular culture to address the different ways and experiences in which we can redefine our own sense of reality. Spiritual America was sold in 2014 on auction for $3.9 million.


Untitled #96 (1981) by Cindy Sherman: $3.8 Million

Artist Name Cindy Sherman (1954 – Present)
MediumChromogenic color print
Dimensions (cm)61 x 120
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection
Sale Price $3.8 million

Untitled #96 is a famous image shot by Cindy Sherman, who was also part of the pictures generation in the 20th century. Sherman is recognized as one of the most famous conceptual and modern photographers of her time, who created this color photograph as part of a series of 12 images titled Centerfold. In 2011, this famous print sold for $3.8 million, which made it one of the highest prices paid for photographic artwork at the time.

A year later, another print sold for $2.8 million in New York. Untitled #96 was shot in 1981 and portrays Cindy Sherman posed as a young teenager with short blonde hair, who wears an orange sweater and a short skirt.

Sherman portrayed her character as a young girl who was cleaning a linoleum floor for her mother but encountered a text in a newspaper, which she tears out. The text possibly reads “Do you want to be friends, are you lonely, and do you want to go on a vacation?”.


Untitled #93 (1981) by Cindy Sherman: $3.8 Million

Artist Name Cindy Sherman (1954 – Present)
MediumColor photograph
Dimensions (cm)Unavailable
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection
Sale Price $3.8 million

Cindy Sherman appears frequently on the list of the most expensive photographs ever sold, Untitled #93 is another famous color photograph shot by Sherman in 1981. Also part of the Centerfold series of 12 images, this famous photograph was very much hidden from the spotlight but was exhibited publicly in the same year it was produced.

Untitled #93 was sold at Sotheby’s in New York for 3.8 million in 2014, which made it the second most expensive photograph ever sold by Sherman.

The image portrays a young woman with blonde hair lying on her bed, with a tired expression as she clutches at her black sheets. The scene is dramatic as the woman appears distraught, while the sunlight dramatically fills the composition. The photograph generated significant debate since critics suggested that it alluded to a scenario of sexual abuse. While Sherman denied that theory, she claimed that the inspiration for the image was taken from a woman who had been drinking all night and partying, and who had just returned to rest for five minutes before the sun rose to wake her up.


Twin Flames #49 (2021) by Justin Aversano: $3.7 Million

Artist Name Justin Aversano (1992 – Present)
Dimensions (cm)Unavailable
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection
Sale Price $3.7 million

Twin Flames #49 is one of the most expensive photographs sold by NFT artist Justin Aversano. Aversano is most famous for combining photography in the NFT arena and published Twin Flames #49, which sold for around $3.7 million. His Twin Flames project is recognized as one of his earliest projects published on the blockchain, with the collection valued at around $10.7 million.

Aversano’s collection of NFT photographs was also exhibited at Gabba Gallery to provide viewers with an alternative understanding of the tarot deck in a novel way that people could perceive photography in a mixed media setting.


To Her Majesty (1973) by Gilbert & George: $3.7 Million

Artist Name Gilbert Prousch (1943 – Present) & George Passmore (1942 – Present)
MediumGelatin silver print
Dimensions (cm)145 x 350
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection
Sale Price $3.7 million

To Her Majesty was shot by Gilbert and George in 1973 and was part of a series of photographs created as living sculptures by the artist duo. The artists known as Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore inaugurated their series upon their return to the United Kingdom, following their success in America and Europe. Gilbert and George started to create photographs to chart the progress of their lives. The series was described as being motivated by a destructive urge rather than a creative urge, whereby the artists Transform themselves into objects while elevating an ordinary experience to expose the pretentiousness of art history.

The photograph is among the top 10 most expensive photographs ever sold on auction, which fetched $3.7 million.


Untitled (Cowboy) (1998) by Richard Prince: $3.7 Million

Artist Name Richard Prince (1949 – Present)
MediumEktacolor print
Dimensions (cm)149 x 99
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection
Sale Price $3.7 million

Untitled (Cowboy) is a famous 1998 image shot by Richard Prince that symbolizes the American West. The image evokes a national memory of the American West through the wide-brimmed hats, which appeal to many American consumers, who romanticized the many grand battles against indigenous civilizations in the natural environment. This sort of national consciousness was also appropriated by Marlboro on the covers of their cigarette cartons during a period when the effects of smoking were also evident in society. The image represents America’s undeniable self-image through generic signifiers that had just been released from Marlboro’s public image. Prince also crops the original image to highlight the character of the cowboy associated with an “unbound freedom”, as an image that has constantly been recycled in the advertising industry to promote cheaper products.

In essence, Prince exposes the life cycle of the American cowboy that has been transformed into the birth of the American consumer.


Dead Troops Talk (1992) by Jeff Wall: $3.6 Million

Artist Name Jeffrey Wall (1946 – Present)
MediumTransparency in lightbox
Dimensions (cm)229.2 x 417.2
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection
Sale Price $3.6 million

Dead Troops Talk is a famous photograph created by Jeffrey Wall in 1992. The photograph is a staged image that portrays the impact of a fictional war scene from the Soviet army patrol by the Mujahideen in 1986. The photograph was staged in an arid desert, with 13 soldiers portrayed rising from the dead, as zombies, who bear the effects of the deadly war scene.

The soldier zombies appear to display strange behavior, as they show each other their wounds from the battle.

Three Mujahideen soldiers are also seen in the composition, investigating the contents of a bag from another soldier. This powerful image sold for $3.6 million in 2012 at Christie’s in New York and has remained the most expensive photograph ever sold by Wall since 2020.


Untitled (Cowboy) (2000) by Richard Prince: $3.5 Million

Artist Name Richard Prince (1949 – Present)
MediumEktacolor print
Dimensions (cm)121.9 x 195
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection
Sale Price $3.5 million

Untitled (Cowboy) is another expensive photograph shot by Richard Prince in 2000 as part of an edition of two prints, one of which was sold for $3.5 million in 2016 at Christie’s in New York. The work is part of Prince’s most romantic images from his Untitled (Cowboy) series, which was also selected to be the cover of his 2003 monograph and the banner of his Spiritual America exhibition in 2007 at the Guggenheim Museum.

Evoking the glamorization of the image of the cowboy, Prince also amplified the scale of the print as a theatrical display that was enlarged until it pixelated to amplify the misty landscape and the iconic image of the American male’s collective imagination.

The American cowboy remains a symbol of almost mythological origin that represents the patriarchy and masculinity that celebrates the performative aspects of Hollywood actors such as John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Marlboro’s use of the cowboy was introduced only to encourage more men to buy their cigarettes since it was mostly used by women at the time.


Untitled (Cowboy) (2001 – 2002) by Richard Prince: $3.4 Million

Artist Name Richard Prince (1949 – Present)
Date2000 – 2001
MediumEktachrome print
Dimensions (cm)254 x 169
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection
Sale Price $3.4 million

Untitled (Cowboy) is yet another image from Richard Prince’s series that is part of the list of the most expensive photographs ever sold. Three images from his series appear on the list, which truly showcases the demand for his work and the impact of his in-depth exploration of the American cowboy. His work was sold for $3.4 million at Sotheby’s in New York in 2007 and is ranked 13th on the list of the world’s most expensive pictures. 


99 Cent II Diptychon (2001) by Andreas Gursky: $3.3 Million

Artist Name Andreas Gursky (1955 – Present)
MediumC-print mounted to acrylic glass
Dimensions (cm)207 x 337
Where It Is HousedPrivate collection
Sale Price $3.3 million

Andreas Gursky appears yet again on the list with his second most expensive photograph, which sold for $3.3 million in 2007 at Sotheby’s in London. The photograph is composed of two parts and was inspired by the original image 99 Cent, which was photographed in 1999.

Gusky’s image portrays the interior architecture of a supermarket with various aisles containing the different goods sold in a market.

The photograph was printed on a chromogenic color print and is recognized as a diptych with six sets mounted on acrylic glass. Immediately, your eye is drawn to the colorful products on the shelves, which all display the same price. Gursky shot the image in an American retail chain store, which sold all its products for $0.99. The photo mimics an architectural drawing, elevated by the horizontal shelves that lie perpendicular to the vertical columns of the supermarket. Among other famous Gursky photos that fetched millions of dollars include Chicago Board of Trade III, which sold for $3.2 million in 2013 at Sotheby’s in London and achieved well over its initial estimated price of $1.2 million.


These famous photos demonstrate the various styles of images that avid collectors are so willing to pay millions of dollars for. Apart from photography as a medium that can be transformed on the blockchain as an NFT, such art is further elevated to new audiences that have paid up to $91.8 million for digital artwork, which encourages photographers to consider digitizing their works. We hope that this list has proved informative to your understanding of photographs and their value in the contemporary era.




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is the Most Expensive Picture in the World?

Le Violon d’Ingres (1924) by Man Ray is considered to be the most expensive picture in the world, which fetched around $12.4 million on auction in 2022. The physical copy demonstrates the value attached to the renowned Surrealist photographer and the significance of the image as a homage to his relationship with his model and lover, as well as his artistic influences from the Neoclassical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.


What Is the Most Expensive Black and White Photograph Sold on Auction?

Phantom (2014) by Peter Lik is considered to be the most expensive black and white photograph sold on auction. The photographic print was purchased anonymously for $6.5 million.


Who Are the Three Most Valued Photographers in the World?

Among the top three most valued photographers, whose works have sold for millions, include figures such as Man Ray, Edward Steichen, and Andreas Gursky, the latter of whom was overtaken by Peter Lik in 2014. Andreas Gursky is, however, one photographer whose works feature often on the list of most expensive photos, alongside Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince.