Episode 82 of the Fine Art Photography Podcast: The Flatiron by Edward Steichen, the second most expensive photograph ever sold
In this episode of the Fine Art Photography Podcast, we discuss Edward Steichen’s 1905 Flatiron photograph, which auctioned at an astounding $10 Million — a lot of money but not the highest price for a photograph ever!
See the Flatiron in Christie’s auction guide here (Pages 26-27): https://issuu.com/christiesstudio/docs/nyc2201001_salecat?fr=sYmE5MDUzNDgyOTQ
Even though the Steichen photograph sold for $10 million, the final price being quoted across the media is $11,840,000, which presumably is the total with fees and premiums added. The hammer came down at $10 million.
At the time I published the podcast, the Paul Strand photograph had not been auctioned yet and I didn’t have the final auction price (it was a huge auction covering two days). The Strand photograph sold for $126,000, which was below the estimates.
However, I also said in the podcast that these were the only two photographs in the auction. What I didn’t know — because it hadn’t been publicized anywhere that I could find — is that there were three other photographs auctioned from the Paul G. Allen Collection.
Lot 110, a 1925 Man Ray Rayograph called “Swedish Landscape” sold for $189,000.
Lot 122 titled “Cello Study” an André Kertész photograph printed in 1926 sold for $226,800.
And, lot 164, an Irving Penn image from 1986 called “12 Hands of Miles Davis and His Trumpet, New York, July 1, 1986” sold for $195,300.
Full episode transcript
In this episode, Edward Steichen’s Flatiron photograph at auction was expected to surpass Man Ray’s masterpiece “Le Violon d’Ingres,” which recently became the most expensive photograph ever sold.
Audio clip from the auction as the Steichen sells for $10 Million
That’s the sound of Edward Steichen’s moody photograph of the iconic Flatiron Building in New York City selling for $10 million at auction at Christie’s in New York on November 9, 2022.
The Flatiron had been estimated at 2 to three million dollars, but early on, there was buzz that it could surpass the $12 million record sale price for a photograph set just this summer for Man Ray’s photograph. I talked about that photograph and the record-setting auction in a previous episode.
So, at $10 million it well exceeded the auction estimates but fell short of the record-breaking price of more than $12 million.
The Flatiron was sold as part of the Paul G. Allen collection, and in case that name doesn’t ring a bell, he was a cofounder of Microsoft with Bill Gates, and in the same auction as The Flatiron were museum-quality masterpieces that only a fortune like his could amass — works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Botticelli, Hockney, Magritte, Seurat, O’Keeffe, Wyeth and on and on. The Steichen was one of only two photographs in the auction and not only a little out of place, but also overshadowed by the megawatt star power of some of those artists.
I watched the Man Ray sell at auction, and I watched the Steichen sell as well, and to me, the energy was different in the room. There was a palpable energy in the room for the Man Ray as it raced past estimates and kept climbing, as multiple bidders refused to concede. The pace slowed earlier on the Steichen with competing bidders taking longer to commit to a higher price. There was decidedly less excitement in the room about the Steichen than I remember for the Man Ray. . . this wasn’t a photography crowd and there were a lot of very shiny objects on auction that night.
To give an example, a painting by Lucian Freud started at $65 million and went up from there, closing at $75 million. On the other hand, an old master painting by Jan Breughel the Younger sold for $7 Million two hundred thousand — well below the price of the Steichen photograph.
The $10 million dollar sale price positions the Steichen Flatiron — one of only two signed versions — as the second most expensive photograph ever sold, and more than twice as much as Rhein II by Andreas Gursky, which spent many years atop the list of the world’s most expensive photographs.
The Flatiron is a gum-bichromate over platinum print, 19 inches x 14 3/4 inches or 48.3 x 37.5 centimeters. The negative was made in 1904, and this print was made in 1905. It’s signed in the bottom right and dated with roman numerals. There are only four examples of this image, and this is the only one in private hands, having been passed down in the artist’s family until 1992 — the other three are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.
You can see The Flatiron by Edward Steichen in the auction guide provided by Christie’s. I’ll include a link in the podcast description and on my blog, where you can always find full transcripts of the podcast episodes.
By the way, the other photograph listed was a small platinum print made in 1927 by Paul Strand, estimated at $300,000 to $500,000.
That’s all I’ve got for this episode. Thanks for listening.
I’ll talk to you again real soon.