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The Most Expensive Photographs of 2016

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  • photographers like lik sell their photos in 2014 for 6 million
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December 18, 2016
Passionate about art, frequent visitor of exhibitions, Widewalls photography specialist and Editor-in-Chief.

It was another good year for photography on the art market, as the medium reached admirable prices at auctions and gained enough attention to be featured in several art fairs and events dedicated exclusively to photo-based works. From PHOTOFAIRS in Shanghai and San Francisco to Paris Photo and the FotoFocus biennial in Cincinnati, there are many opportunity for the enthusiasts and collectors to get their hands on a fine photographic print – apart from, of course, auction sales and exhibitions. For instance, on view right now at Tate Modern in London, there is a remarkable show of Elton John’s collection that you should not miss. Although the 2016 sales did not exceed the price of the priciest photograph, it gave some considerably good results nevertheless, increasing the worth of some of the most iconic images of our time in many ways.

Behold 2016’s most expensive photos sold at auctions.

  • photographers like lik sell their photos in 2014 for 6 million

Jeff Wall - Rear View, Open Air Theatre, Vancouver

From an auction which brought an array of avant-garde, contemporary and modern photos from the collection of distinguished French film director and producer Claude Berri came this work by photographer Jeff Wall, entitled Rear View, Open Air Theatre, Vancouver and taken in 2005. The 226 x 293 work is a lightbox that comes in an edition of 3, and it was sold for $317,148, not even reaching its low estimate of $329,673. The photographer is known for his documentary work, sometimes staged and often large-sized and exuberant in detail.

Irving Penn - Mouth (For L’Oreal), New York

During his rich career, Irving Penn produced numerous portraits of the female lips, whether for his fashion portfolios or the many clients in advertising he worked for. Smeared with many shades of lipstick, the lips appear to mimic a painter’s palette, aiming to ridicule the beauty industry’s tireless search for perfection – in this case, we’re talking about lipsticks of L’Oreal. Perhaps the lipstick was used to shut the lips, in this case? The interpretations are endless with Penn. Mouth (For L’Oreal) was sold at Christie’s in Paris for $205,791 with buyer’s premium, a little under its high estimate of $240,077.

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Hiroshi Sugimoto - Baltic Sea

Known for the pictures of seascapes taken with long exposure to mark the passing of time and transience of life, Hiroshi Sugimoto formed his own genre of landscape and conceptual photography. In an abstract manner, he created the 1996 Baltic Sea as well, in which we see two clearly distinguished color fields, one being the sea and the other the grey skies – in fact, the sky in his photos is exclusively grey and never clear and cloudless. As part of an edition of 5, the photograph was sold for $382,730 with buyer’s premium, exceeding the low estimate by 22%.

Explore more works by Hiroshi Sugimoto on Widewalls Marketplace!

Andreas Gursky - Athens

Spreading on two panels, Andreas Gursky’s Athens sees the Greek capital at night, from two points of view. This would be a prime example of the artist’s conceptually rigorous interweaving of micro details into a macro structure. At Phillips New York, the work sold for $401,000 with buyer’s premium, just barely missing its high estimate of $350,000. It has also had a steady rise in price over the years, having been sold for the first time in 2004 for $260,000. Gursky is still the author of the priciest photograph in the world, the famous 1999 Rhein II shot.

Paul Strand - The Family, Luzzara, Italy

In 1953, famed documentary photographer Paul Strand visited the Italian village of Luzzara, the birthplace of screenwriter Cesare Zavattini. Over the course of five weeks, he took photos of people living there, including the family of Valentino Lusetti, one of the few men there who spoke English. Strand took The Family, Luzzara, Italy in front of the facade of their ancestral home, producing an iconic photograph which became the cover of Aperture’s 1955 monograph Un Paese. The photo sold for $461,000 with buyer’s premium at Christie’s New York, exceeding the high estimate of $300,000 by 27%.

Robert Mapplethorpe - Flag

Towards the end of his life, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe wanted to create as many works as possible, as he wanted to leave a legacy that would continue to carry his spirit long after he is gone. His 1987 Flag appears to be one of those photos, even though the artist treated it as an iconic symbol in 1979 as well. Here, we notice a more quiet tone, almost one of self-reflection, a sense of one’s own imminent mortality – and this comes from the man who spent his life trying to be provocative, daring, famous by any cost. This artwork sold for $487,500 with buyer’s premium at Christie’s, not reaching its estimated value of $600,000.

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Peter Beard - Heart Attack City, 1972-1990

Peter Beard’s Heart Attack City, 1972-1990 is an extraordinary photo collage of the photos he took himself. In it, we see many familiar faces that the artist knew in person: Jackie Kennedy, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Mick Jagger, Marilyn Monroe. Beard is someone who spent a lifetime going to jetset parties, which is exactly how he had access and permission to take the pictures of celebrities in the manner he did. Apart from photos, the work also includes ephemera such as an infants laced shoe, a pebble, a plastic comb, feathers, a dried pea pod, some dark brown crunched up tissue, cracker packaging, magazine and newspaper cuttings, a negative strip, a bumble bee, snake skin and a bottle top. At Christie’s London, the collage sold for $624,010 with buyer’s premium.

Helmut Newton - Sie Kommen (Dressed) and Sie Kommen (Naked)

Sie Kommen (Dressed) and Sie Kommen (Naked) is arguably one of Helmut Newton’s most famous pictures ever. On an occasion, he explained how the series presented probably the biggest technical problems, as there was a considerable time lag between the naked and the dressed version. ”I had to match the exact movement of the model to each version with the help of many Polaroids,”, said the artist. The fashion brands he promoted here were Emmanuelle Khahn, Karl Lagerfeld for Chloé, Angelo Tarlazzi and Fournier. The image sold for $670,000 with buyer’s premium at Sotheby’s New York.

Gilbert and George - Day

Exceptionally rare, the 1979 Day by Gilbert and George belongs to their 1978 series. Composed of sixteen panels portraying the duo, it is a stunning example of their highly sought-after work which features the singular color palette – trademark of their early artistic practice, in form of cool black and white set against a vibrant red. The upper panels possibly depict four transient men on the street, while the other shows the duo’s self-portrait, the very opposite of anonymous. The artwork fetched $670,000 with buyer’s premium at Phillips New York, even though it’s been estimated at $800,000.

Thomas Struth - Art Institute Of Chicago II, Chicago

Thomas Struth’s Art Institute Of Chicago II, Chicago appeared in auction for the very first time in 2016 at Phillips, selling for $777,088 with buyer’s premium and becoming this year’s most expensive photograph sold at auction. Taken from his first series of museum imagery, the photographer’s best known and most acclaimed body of work, the image calls to mind a casual snapshot of visitors inside the Art Institute, but the truth is that the artist would wait for hours, even days for the perfect shot and composition. These pieces explore the relationship between the camera and the viewer, the viewer and the art on view, the viewer and the exhibition space itself. Struth’s museum pictures surely ushered in a new visual language in photography at large.

Be sure to check out more works by Thomas Struth!

List of The Most Expensive Photographs of 2016

Take a look at the 100 priciest photos in 2016 sold at auctions below!

Artist NameArtwork TitleSold For Price
Thomas StruthArt Institute Of Chicago II, Chicago777088
Gilbert and GeorgeDay670000
Helmut NewtonSie Kommen (Dressed)' And 'Sie Kommen (Naked)670000
Peter BeardHeart Attack City, 1972-1998624010
Robert MapplethorpeFlag487500
Paul StrandThe Family, Luzzara, Italy461000
Andreas GurskyAthens401000
Hiroshi SugimotoBaltic Sea382730
Irving PennMouth (For L'Oreal), New York318250
Jeff WallRear view, open air theatre, Vancouver317148
Man RayRayograph295500
Amelie Guillot-SaguezRome277845
Yoshitomo NaraUntitled252480
Richard AvedonBrigitte Bardot, Hair By Alexandre, Paris, January 27, 1959250000
Alfred StieglitzGeorgia O'Keeffe250000
Man RayRayograph250000
Diane ArbusBoy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C.245000
William EgglestonUntitled241081
Anna AtkinsBritish Algae Vol. III239770
Hiroshi SugimotoChurch of the Light, Tadao Ando233000
Richard PrinceUntitled (Cowboy)233000
Peter BeardMaureen And A Late-Night Feeder, 2.00 Am, Hog Ranch215050
Robert FrankCity Fathers, Hoboken, New Jersey212500
Irving PennMouth (For L'Oreal), New York205791
Ansel AdamsMoonrise Hernandez New Mexico200000
Emile Charles LabbeMont Athos Couvents Grecs Turquie199700
Richard AvedonBlue Cloud Wright, Slaughterhouse Worker, Omaha, Nebraska, August 10, 1979197025
Thomas StruthEl Capitan (Yosemite National Park)187500
Alfred StieglitzCamera Work: A Photographic Quarterly' (New York: Alfred Stieglitz, 1903-17)187500
Diane ArbusChild With A Toy Hand Grenade In Central Park, N.Y.C.150000
Irving PennGisele, New York, April 1 1999137000
Cindy ShermanUntitled Film Still #37137000
Masahisa FukaseErimo Misaki, Cape Erimo From, Karasu Ravens135310
Nick KnightBlack Pearl135310
Eugene AtgetRue Asselin, Paris133737
Robert FrankParade - Hoboken, New Jersey125000
Andres SerranoPiss Christ125000
Thomas StruthKunsthistorisches Museum Wien II125000
Richard AvedonThe Beatles125000
Robert MapplethorpeLisa Marie125000
Irving PennBee On Lips, New York122376
Irving PennThree Poppies, Arab Chief, New York120636
Julia Margaret CameronStella, Study of Julia Jackson (Mrs. Herbert Duckworth)120636
Ansel AdamsYosemite Valley From Inspiration Point, Winter, Yosemite National Park118750
Eugene AtgetJoueur de guitare, Paris118016
Peter LindberghLinda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington, Estelle Lefebure, Karen Alexander, Rachel Williams', Vogue Us, Beach Los Angeles117000
Guido MocaficoSelected Images From Leopold And Rudolf Blaschka114728
Herb RittsVersace Dress, Back View, El Mirage112500
Robert MapplethorpeCalla Lily111860
Richard AvedonMarilyn Monroe, Actress, New York City111600
Eugene AtgetCoiffeur, Avenue de l'Observatoire, Paris110156
Robert MapplethorpeSelf Portrait108250
Robert MapplethorpeSelf Portrait with Whip106250
Herb RittsStephanie, Cindy, Christy, Tatjana, Naomi, Hollywood106250
Dorothea LangeWhite Angel Bread Line, San Francisco106250
Thomas RuffJpeg Ny06106250
Philip-Lorca diCorciaW, March 2000, #12 (From Cuba Libre)106250
Ernest de CaranzaConstantinople Et Ses Environs101487
Robert MapplethorpeKen Moody and Robert Sherman100000
Wolfgang TillmansSelected Images100000
Peter LindberghNaomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Tatjana Patitz, Christy Turlington And Cindy Crawford, New York99230
Peter BeardI'Ll Write Whenever I Can, Koobi Fora, Lake Rudolf, Kenya99230
Nobuyoshi ArakiYakusa99000
Irving PennTwo fighting crickets, New York, July 1298380
Richard AvedonJames Story Coal Miner' Somerset Colorado 12/18/79 De La Serie: In The American West94939
Robert MapplethorpeCalla Lily93750
Adam FussUntitled93750
Vik MunizStarry Night, After Van Gogh From Pictures Of Magazines 293750
Annie LeibovitzKeith Haring, New York City93750
Irving PennGisele, New York, April 1 199993750
Irving PennFrozen Foods, New York90210
Helmut NewtonSaddle II, Paris90000
Robert MapplethorpeKen, Lydia and Tyler89760
Eugene AtgetBon Marche, Paris87884
Photographer Unknown - Vue du Palais Vendramin Calergi, Venise87884
Thomas RuffPortrat (A. Giese)87500
Sharon CoreBakery Counter, 196287500
Richard AvedonJohn Harrison, Lumber Salesman, And His Daughter Melissa, Lewisville, Texas, November 22, 198187500
Edward WestonUntitled (Tina On The Azotea, With Kimono)87500
Hiroshi SugimotoWorld Trade Center87500
Peter BeardOrphaned Cheetah Cubs Mweiga Kenya87500
Robert FrankCaerau, Wales87500
Man RayTanja Ramm Portrait Solarise84463
Louise LawlerWar is terror81334
Francesca WoodmanSelf-deceit #6, Rome81250
Hiroshi SugimotoSir Winston Churchill81250
Robert FrankLondon (Hearse)81250
Garry WinograndWorld'S Fair, N. Y. C.81250
Irving PennNude Christy Turlington, New York81190
Dennis HopperDouble Standard81074
Irving PennBedside Lamp, New York79380
Irving PennFour Guedras, Morocco77500
Robert MapplethorpeCalla Lily75000
Ansel AdamsPortfolio III: Yosemite Valley75000
William EgglestonSouthern Suite75000
Hans BellmerLes Jeux De La Poupée (The Games Of The Doll)75000
Richard MisrachUntitled #114-0375000
Doug and Mike StarnUntitled #7 From Structure Of Thought75000
Andy WarholUntitled (White Brick Wall)75000
Nick KnightKate73426

All images courtesy Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips, used for illustrative purposes only.