Edward Steichen

News Rare photo of New York becomes second most expensive ever sold

© Edward Steichen

A rare analog photograph of New York City, captured in 1904 by Edward Steichen has become the second most expensive ever sold, reaching a figure of $11.8 million dollars.

─── by Josh Bright, November 10, 2022
  • Steichen’s masterwork The Flatiron sold for $11.8 million at Christie’s auction house on Wednesday, a figure five times that of his previous highest sale, The Pond—Moonlight also captured in 1904, which sold for US$2.9 million in 2006 (at the time, the highest price ever paid for a photograph at auction).

    Analog color photo of New York building The Flatiron by Edward Steichen. Rare analog photograph becomes second most expensive ever sold
    The Flatiron (1904, printed 1905) © Courtesy Christie's

    There are just three Flatiron prints in existence, (the other two are held in the Met Museum of Modern Art’s collection), each of which – thanks to Steichen’s creative printing method- is completely unique and one of the artists’ most iconic works.

    Self portrait with camera of Edward Steichen
    The Flatiron (1904, printed 1905) © Courtesy Christie's

    Born in Luxembourg, Edward Steichen is widely regarded as one of the most important practitioners in the medium’s illustrious history. He was a key figure, alongside the likes of Alfred Stieglitz and Clarence H. White, in the Photo-Secession movement (an influential group of US-based photographers who were instrumental in the medium’s eventual acceptance as a form of fine art).

    One of the most iconic images ever captured, Steichen’s masterpiece, Flatiron, depicts its eponym (just two months after it was built), looming imposingly against New York’s crepuscular sky. By layering pigment, suspended in a light-sensitive solution of gum arabic and potassium bichromate, Steichen added color to the platinum print that forms the photograph’s base, achieving a striking, painterly aesthetic that demonstrated, with great potency, the artistic potential of photography.

    A number of experts had predicted that the photograph would become the most expensive ever sold, but it failed to surpass the $12.4 million figure achieved by Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres, back in May of this year. Taken in 1924, Ray’s most iconic image depicts his muse, Kiki de Montparnasse, nude but for a turban, a pair of violin-style f-holes transcribed on her back.

    portrait photo of woman in shape of violin by Man Ray
    Man Ray's Le Violon d’Ingres (1924) sold at auction earlier this year for $12.4m, smashing the previous auction record for a photograph. Courtesy Christie's

    Before the sale, the auction record for the most expensive photograph had been held by Andreas Gursky’s “Rhine II,” which was sold by Christie’s for $4.3 million in 2011.

    All images © their respective owners