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Edward Steichen’s Image of New York Could Break the Photo Auction Record

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The Flatiron | Edward Steichen

Experts believe a rare Edward Steichen image could break the record for the most expensive photograph sold at auction.

The Art Newspaper reports that some experts at Christie’s Auction House believe that Steichen’s The Flatiron could surpass the auction record for a photograph, set just this May when Man Ray’s iconic Le Violon d’Ingres sold for $12.4 million.

Steichen’s The Flatiron is one of more than 150 works from the collection of late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The piece will be up for auction at Christie’s sale, Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection, taking place in New York on November 9 and 10.

Some think Steichen’s The Flatiron — which was taken in 1904 and printed in 1905 — could have enormous potential at the upcoming auction. The photograph comes with an estimate of $2 million to $3 million. However, according to The Art Newspaper, “given its rarity and importance in the photography community as a harbinger of the medium’s artistic possibilities, the expectations are high.”

Steichen’s The Flatiron has all the makings to become the most expensive photograph ever sold. The piece may be just as historically relevant as Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres if not more. The photograph is one of Steichen’s most iconic works and has been lauded by photography enthusiasts as one of the first examples of the medium’s ability to match painting as an art form.

The image was taken only two years after the Flatiron Building in New York was completed, a sign that modernity was flourishing in the city. It was also a reference to an earlier photograph by Steichen’s mentor and friend, Alfred Stieglitz, who had photographed the building the year before.

There are only three prints of the image in existence, two of which are in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection. And all three are different, thanks to Steichen’s use of gum bichromate over the platinum print, which gave each print a different hue.

The print was a part of the Steichen family collection until the 1990s when it was acquired by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Le Violon d’Ingres (1924) by Man Ray.

Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres was also sold by Christies and came with a $7 million high estimate. The iconic photo was taken in 1924 and depicts Kiki de Montparnasse, described as Man Ray’s muse, who is nude other than for the turban she wears on her head. Man Ray painted the f-holes of a stringed instrument (like a violin or a cello) on the print and then re-photographed it to create the final photo.


Image credits: Header by Edward Steichen, The Flatiron, 1904 (printed 1909), Flickr

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