The world’s most expensive photo

We know how important some photos can be for people. Whether it’s a photo of your beloved grandmother, a photo of an unforgettable vacation or even a photo of your beloved little fur ball, some photos are priceless in our eyes because they are so precious. However, there is a photo that has been recognized as the most expensive photo in the world and this time we are not talking about feelings but about numbers : 4 338 500 $, nothing less!

Does this picture ring a bell? 

Maybe you have already seen it without knowing that it is… the most expensive photo in the world! So of course, maybe it’s not to everyone’s taste or you simply won’t understand the craze around this photo which seems so banal at first sight, so we’ll try to explain to you what gives it its title of world’s most expensive photo.

This photo is called Rhein II and was taken by the German photographer Andreas Gursky. It is photo number 1 of a series of 6, dating from 1999. It is made by chromogenic color printing, mounted on acrylic glass and placed in a frame. It is an abstract landscape, an image close to the minimal art, a frequent axis of research among German artists who like to address the relationship between man and nature.

The photo represents the Rhine river outside Düsseldorf, flowing horizontally in the field of vision, between green fields on each bank, under an overcast sky. Andreas Gursky often retouches his images, deleting some elements and multiplying others to create a sense of infinity. For Rhein II, all superfluous details, such as a walker with his dog and a factory building, were removed by Gursky through digital editing.

Andreas Gursky poses in front of his work Rhein II, 2007 at the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich, Germany

He has described the genesis of this work, saying, “there is a particular place with a view over the Rhine which has somehow always fascinated me, but it didn’t suffice for a picture as it basically constituted only part of a picture. I carried this idea for a picture around with me for a year and a half and thought about whether I ought perhaps to change my viewpoint… In the end I decided to digitalise the pictures and leave out the elements that bothered me” (Annelie Lütgens, Shrines and Ornaments: A Look into the Display Cabinet, Andreas Gursky: Fotografien 1994-1998).

This photo is at the same time of a great simplicity but also of a great effectiveness in the way it creates an atmosphere. By the way the lines and colors are exploited, some even compare it to a painting. And this is what must have made the buyer fall in love with it. The print was initially acquired by the Monika Sprüth Gallery in Cologne, Germany and then purchased by an anonymous German collector. The latter will in turn sell the print at auction at Christie’s New York on November 8, 2011 where the photo is estimated at $2.6 to $3.5 millions. It was finally sold for over 4 million dollars to Harry Philbrick, director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, a major museum in Philadelphia. Four more of the six prints in the series are in prestigious public collections including MOMA in New York and the Tate Modern in London.

Phantom, Peter Lik

In December 2014, a photo entitled “Phantom” taken by Peter Lik was announced as the photo that beat Rhein II and stole the top spot of the most expensive photo in the world. Indeed, the announced selling price for this photo is 6.5 million dollars and the buyer would be a private collector from Las Vegas but no information about it has really been disclosed. For some people in the world of photography, this sale is doubtful. There are rumors that Peter Lik’s “investors” were buying his work for astronomical sums to generate media coverage and interest in the photographer’s work. There is also no guarantee that this is actually the price that was paid by the buyer. In any case, this photo has made a lot of noise in the photography world!

In any case if we had the choice to buy one of the two artworks, we would definitely have chosen the photo of Gursky for the vibe it gives off! And you, which one do you prefer ?

Go back home.