Iconic photograph of a nude woman may become most expensive photo ever sold 

An iconic photo by American surrealist Man Ray is set to become the most expensive image in the world. The black-and-white still entitled Le Violin d’Ingres depicts a nude woman with the f-hole markings of a stringed instrument on her back. 

The work will be auctioned by Christie’s and has an asking price of at least US$5 million. The Wall Street Journal first reported the record-breaking asking price, sharing that Christie’s has set the estimated value of the work at between US$5 million and US$7 million, which is the highest ever price for the auction house. 

Le Violon D'Ingres by Man Ray


The story behind the image

The inspiration for the famous photograph and the relationship between its subject and the artist has some layers to it. 

Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitzky) was an American visual artist in the early 20th century whose work formed part of the Surrealist and Dada art movements. He spent much of his life living and working in Europe. 

Man Ray was a keen admirer of French painter Jean-Auguste-Dominque Ingres. Taking inspiration from Ingres’ nude paintings, especially La Grande Baigneuse,Man Ray took a series of photographs of his companion and lover Alice Prin, also famously known as Kiki de Montparnasse. Prin went on to become one of the most renowned models of the 20th century. 

In terms of process, the f-holes that appear on Prin’s back were not painted on to her skin, but rather on to a print of the portrait which Man Ray then rephotographed. 

The title of the work, Le Violon d’Ingres, is a nod to the French idiom, Violon d’Ingres, which refers to a secondary hobby or passion or skill which is different from the one that you are known for. The idiom came from the fact that when Ingres was not paining, he was playing the violin. It is generally understood that as his lover and companion, Prin was Ray’s personal Violon d’Ingres. 

Most expensive photo in the world? 

Whether the iconic photograph actually becomes the most expensive image in the world will only be determined in May when the image goes to auction.

If it is sold for the asking price of US$5 million, then it would well and truly surpass the existing record of US$4,338,500, which was the price that a photograph shot by Andreas Gursky went for in a Christie’s auction in 2011. 

© Andreas Gursky. Rhein II. 

The international head of photographs at Christie’s, Darius Himes, has called Man Ray’s image “one of the most iconic works of the 20th century.”

The image comes from the the collection of the late Rosalind Gersten Jacobs and Melvin Jacobs, who were the CEO of Saks Fifth Avenue and Vice President of Macy’s, respectively. The retail executives had a love of art collecting and a particular interest in Surrealist works. 

Another photograph captured by Man Ray was among some of the most expensive images ever sold at auction, which supports the idea that Le Violon d’Ingres could attract a buyer willing to pay the US$5 million asking price. All the speculation will be answered when the work is finally offered at live auction at Christie’s in New York in May 2022. 

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