Man Ray’s famed “Le Violon d’Ingres” is poised to make history as the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction.
The black and white image, taken in 1924 by the American surrealist artist, transforms a woman’s naked body into a violin by overlaying the picture of her back with f-holes.
The original print of the masterpiece, widely considered to be Man Ray’s most famous work, is expected to fetch between $5-7 million when it goes under the hammer at Christie’s in May — the highest estimate for a single photograph in auction history, according to the auction house.
Ray, born Emmanuel Radnitzky, lived from 1890 to 1976. He was a key member of the Dada and Surrealism movements and his “Le Violon d’Ingres” is the top lot to be offered from the collection of Rosalind Gersten Jacobs and Melvin Jacobs, retail executives and art collectors who had ties to Surrealist circles.
According to the auction house, the New York couple acquired the piece from Ray back in 1962 and it will be sold alongside other artworks, photographs, jewelry, and posters, from their art collection amassed over decades.
Jacobs, a former chairman and CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue, died in 1993 at the age of 67. His wife Rosalind Gersten Jacobs, 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 that every piece from the collection “has a unique and intimate story behind it” and reflects the “joyful spirit of my parents’ relationship.”
Why is art so expensive?
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. “This beguiling Surrealist image is the result of a unique and hand-manipulated darkroom process.”
He added: “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 standout pieces being sold include Vija Celmins’ Mars, which is estimated to fetch between $1,800,000 and $2,500,000.
The current record for a photograph sold at auction is held by Andreas Gursky’s Rhine II, which was sold by Christie’s for a staggering $4.3 million in 2011.