In 2019, we reported the results from 51 auctions from around the world, providing data on a wide range of specialist photography and photobook sales as well as contemporary art auctions that included a significant percentage of photographic lots.
In the slideshow below, the top ten highest priced photography lots sold at auction in 2019 are shown in descending price order, with image details, pre-sale estimates, realized prices, and venues/dates as background (images courtesy of Phillips, Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Grisebach, in varying sizes).
While it is altogether possible that there were photographs (or sets of photographs) in other secondary auctions that we didn’t report on that also fetched significant prices last year, we’d like to think that this list represents the vast majority of the mainstream photography transactions that took place in the past 12 months. (If we’ve missed any outcomes of importance, please add them in the comments area for the benefit of all.)
Here’s the aggregate data in table form, for easier comparison:
|Top 10 Highest Priced Photography Lots at Auction in 2019 (Artist/Price)|
|Gilbert & George||$1041450|
Lists like this one are largely driven by two main factors – the arrival rate of superlative quality consignments and the aggressiveness of the bidding. This year’s list is notable for both the absence of works by Richard Prince (in years past, the top ten has included as many as 6 of his prints in a single year) and the number of “classic” or “vintage” works in this year’s top 10 (only 2 of the 10 works were made since the 1980s).
The dollar value for the single top photography lot of the year was once again below $2M, following up a similarly weak showing last year. The chart below makes the consignment issue more clear – it’s been a while since we have consistently seen the sale of $3M+ photographs.
|Highest Priced Photography Lot Sold at Auction, By Year, 2013-2019|
|Helmut Newton (2019)||$1820000|
|Richard Prince (2018)||$1695000|
|Man Ray (2017)||$3226500|
|Richard Prince (2016)||$3525000|
|Cindy Sherman (2015)||$2965000|
|Richard Prince (2014)||$3973000|
|Andreas Gursky (2013)||$3511835|
Given the frothiness of the stock markets of late, it’s intriguing that marquee contemporary photographs have largely stayed on the sidelines in the past two years. When (and whether, given decreasing availability) these kinds of works resurface and/or return to favor is a key question we will be watching as the new season begins.