Without Annie Leibovitz and her photos, contemporary portraiture and photography at large would simply not be as rich as they are today. From the legendary celebrity images of John Lennon on the day he was assassinated and Demi Moore’s pregnant and nude Vanity Fair cover, to the seminal Women project and her latest groundbreaking take on the Pirelli calendar, the work of Annie Leibovitz is one that stands on a high level of its own. She photographed everyone from the world of celebrities and beyond, setting new standards in the creative field and introducing a unique artistic style. Often praised for her ability to take the best out of people she portrays, in the manner of one Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz continues to deliver the most iconic portraits of familiar faces of our time. Although she works as a photographer for magazines like Vanity Fair and Vogue, as well as different fashion brands like Prada and Tom Ford, a number of her photographs also found their way to auctions, and in this article, we chronicle the 10 best-selling of them.
Editors’ Tip: Women
"Each of these pictures must stand on its own," Susan Sontag writes in the essay that accompanies the portraits. "But the ensemble says, So this what women are now -- as different, as varied, as heroic, as forlorn, as conventional, as unconventional as this." The photographs by Annie Leibovitz in Women, taken especially for the book, encompass a broad spectrum of subjects: a rap artist, an astronaut, two Supreme Court justices, farmers, coal miners, movie stars, showgirls, rodeo riders, socialites, reporters, dancers, a maid, a general, a surgeon, the First Lady of the United States, the secretary of state, a senator, rock stars, prostitutes, teachers, singers, athletes, poets, writers, painters, musicians, theater directors, political activists, performance artists, and businesswomen.
This Annie Leibovitz photo ended up being Kate Moss’ favorite, as the supermodel decided to include it in her 368-page coffee table book which celebrates the 25 years of her career and counting. It was also exhibited along with all others on the UK soil for the first time in 2015, proving her to be one of the most photographed women in the world. In it, we almost don’t recognize her as her familiar face emerges between large earrings and a head piece made of flashing diamonds. The image is a part of a large Paris portfolio dedicated to the British supermodel released in the US Vogue in October 199, and it also featured musician Puff Daddy.
In 2015. the photographed was sold for $19,600 with buyer’s premium at Phillips in London. More info here!
This 2004 Annie Leibovitz photo is one of the many portraits she took of Scarlett Johansson. Ending up in Vanity Fair, the image sees the young actress reclined on a green velvet sofa, covered with a large piece of jewelry in a relaxed, sexy pose. Created as a fashion shot, this picture, however, proves Annie Leibovitz’s ability to make her subjects appear natural and comfortable, no matter the occasion, circumstances or even the purpose of the session. More than often, she catches her models in-between poses to obtain that kind of result, at the same time drawing attention to the aesthetic appeal of the human body and the raw beauty of people themselves.
This print was sold for $22,500 with buyer’s premium at Phillips New York in 2014. More auction data after the click.
Definitely an icon in the world of football and fashion, David Beckham is an influential figure, and he often uses this fact to work with many charities. In 2016. he put a series of unseen portraits taken of him over the years up for auction in a bid to raise money for UNICEF. Hosted by Phillips, it presented and sold photographs made by famous artists such as Mario Sorrenti, Steven Klein, Sam Taylor-Johnson and of course Annie Leibovitz. Her 2004 image of the football player, topless and seductive, was the third best-selling item of the day, after brand new works created for this occasion by British artists Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.
$26,530 was the price of this work with buyer’s premium, achieved at Phillips London in 2016. More details here!
Recently deceased Muhammad Ali was Annie Leibovitz’s frequent model; from candid shots at the end of the 1970s to the prestigious 2012 Louis Vuitton campaign, which contributed to the Climate Change project. In this 1996 Annie Leibovitz photo, the boxing legend is in the studio, wearing a hoodie and gazing mildly at the camera, almost unaffected by Parkinson’s which has been a part of his life for twelve years prior to this picture. It is a classic portraiture example which evokes the aforementioned Richard Avedon, whom Annie Leibovitz admired and was quite influenced by.
The photo of Muhammad Ali reached its highest price at Sotheby’s London in 2008, $36,060 with buyer’s premium. For more data, click here.
Even if it hadn’t been the last official photo ever taken of John Lennon, who was assassinated only a few hours later, this shot would have been iconic anyway. Appearing on the cover of Rolling Stones, everything about it is now legendary: from Yoko Ono being fully dressed and John Lennon being fully naked, to the fact he curls up to her and not vice versa, the image has been re-created numerous times over the years by other celebrities and photographers, paying tribute to the great love between the two and a blissful moment of happiness before the tragic end nobody could have foreseen.
The highest price for the image was reached at Phillips London in 2007, $35,950 with buyer’s premium. For full history, click here.
In 2007, Annie Leibovitz became the first American to be asked by the UK Royal Palace to make an official portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. Although the shooting at the Buckingham Palace caused some controversy, when the BBC claimed that the Queen had walked out during the editorial, the results were nevertheless visually stunning and, as expected, quite traditional. During the 25 minutes with Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, the photographer had to think fast and to deal with a “client” as big as this, it takes some people skill that Annie Leibovitz certainly has. In this photograph, the Queen is sitting next to the window, well composed and in all her royal glory.
This print went for $80,820 with buyer’s premium at Sotheby’s London in 2011. More information here!
This particular photograph is quite interesting because Annie Leibovitz could not take the Queen outside for the shot. Instead, she had to improvise, in the manner of Cecil Beaton who often brought it flowered backdrops to create a certain atmosphere. Annie Leibovitz first photographed the garden and the trees for the backdrop, and then took pictures of the Queen against a constructed gray background, on the balcony of the Palace. She was wearing the Order of the Garter robe and the dress, but no tiara, which appears in other shots from the session. Yet again, the Queen looks fierce and powerful, while there is no way to tell the photographed was mounted digitally.
This photo achieved $40,000 with buyer’s premium at Phillips New York in 2014. For more auction data, go here!
Perhaps you won’t recognize him at first glance, but he’s there. To take this famous picture of Keith Haring, Annie Leibovitz constructed an entire set as a living room that was then painted by the artist, in his trademark playful iconography. But he didn’t stop there - he painted himself naked too, so that he could merge with his black and white surrounding. He is ready to take us on, with his posture and look, and we’re ready to stare at the image as we study its intriguing composition. It was among the finest examples of Annie Leibovitz photos that emphasized conceptual narratives of their subjects.
This photograph was sold for $93,750 with buyer’s premium at Sotheby’s New York in 2016. Click here for more auction data!
Featured image: Annie Leibovitz, by Liz O. Baylen for Los Angeles Times. All images used for illustrative purposes only.