Gursky Photo of Rhine Sells for $4.3M, Becomes World’s Most Expensive Pic

Despite what you might think, this isn’t some random snapshot we found online — it’s actually the world’s most expensive photograph. Titled “Rhein II”, it’s a 1999 photograph by Andreas Gursky showing the Rhine river. Last night it sold for a whopping $4,338,500 at Christie’s.

Gursky has become quite the Midas of photographers: this is his second photo to claim the title of “world’s most expensive”, with the first being 99 Cent II Diptychon ($3.89M and now the 4th most expensive).

(via Christie’s via NSoP)

  • Sam Cornwell

    Isn’t it absolutely stunning?

  • Chromatic Dramatic

    I don’t get it… why is it so expensive?

  • kurt

    Interesting to note that this is a “photoshopped” image as well. Elements were digitally removed that he didn’t like. This is not a scene you could ever hope to find and take your own photo of since it just doesn’t exist as it is in the image here. And yet, it’s a “photo” that has now become the most expensive ever sold.

  • Bill

    Incredible green and gray colors

  • art


    Seriously, why?  

    Truly, this is the ultimate illustration of the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

  • art


    Seriously, why?  

    Truly, this is the ultimate illustration of the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

  • Rick Bennett

    The rarefied art world just blows my mind. For $4.3M, they can blow pretty much anything they like.

  • Rick Bennett

    The rarefied art world just blows my mind. For $4.3M, they can blow pretty much anything they like.

  • Peter Andersen

    Come on people, it’s a bargain at only $411 per square inch :p.

  • Anonymous

    Is there a -1 button around?

  • David Kozlowski

    Dear Mr. Photo purchaser:  Please feel free to browse through my
    Flickr photostream. I also have alot of bad, unimaginative images
    posted there that you might be interested in buying!

  • Mark J P

    I understand that art is subjective but I do find it mind boggling that it is this image that has become the world’s most expensive.  Perhaps I’m a heathen?

  • Rolly

    There’s a hidden Treasure Map  …

  • Mckay Laura

    I see that not many of you have thought about what the photographer might by saying in the presentation of this image. Think of what people thought of Picasso, Mattise, Pollack, Warhol… many people rejected them because their art was not ‘classically beautiful’. Gurksy is making a statement and seeing in a new and different way, and is a very significant modern photographer.

  • Anonymous

    So it’s a little over half of what a painting of some tomato soup cans is worth. Art buying is a strange world. 

  • Valentino

    So, as an art buyer I am supposed to know what he is “saying?” And let’s just say that I found this image on D. Kozlowski’s (^^) flickr page and, being an art buyer, I would immdeaitly contact him and say let’s put it up for auction. Is it saying something not only to me, but to the other buyers in the auction (universal), or do I have to wait until the photographer tells me what it is supposed to say, and then realize it is worth millions. . . it being a photograph?

    And if true that it has been altered. . . . then let the flood gates open. 

    I also have a couple photos worth millions. . . but I am not able to tell people why.

  • Tyler Leeds

    I’ve always said that Art requires emotion… that being said… the only emotion I feel from this is the incredulity at the price.   A snapshot is not art in the same way that an architectural photo isn’t art… they’re staid retellings of the scene, but they generally do not inspire the viewer to feel something.  Art generally requires great skill, or great luck.

    There are a lot of snake oil salesmen in the art world. People who would have you believe that while you’re too ignorant or uncouth to grasp their great vision, there is something there beyond your perception…. the sad truth is that sometimes, there’s really nothing there… you’re chasing ghosts. 

  • kurnot

    As the title of the article states, it is the most expensive photo, not the most beautiful.  It just goes to show how willing some people are to part with their money.  It doesn’t matter on what.

  • Jeff

    It’s “Gursky”, not “Gurksy”.

  • Skeet

    An artist friend of mine told me, “you don’t have to be great, you just have to make them think you’re great.”

  • rj

    think of the people that bought this image, must not appreciate photography at all. this looks like my backyard

  • allie

    i like the photograph. the composition is really interesting and i like that it almost could be a modernist painting rather than a photograph of a landscape. 4.3 million dollars is ridiculous but i’m sure incriminating images have exchanged hands for higher amounts behind closed doors… 

    given that owners of gursky’s work are making so much money off the resale, i wonder if he has ever come close to making that much for himself personally (i don’t know much about him at all). 

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks for the catch

  • Anthony Burokas

    Forget the photo.
    I want to know how this guy get people to pay such exorbitant prices for any image.
    How do you make the step from “hmmm interesting photo/image” to…
    Please pay $4,000,000 dollars.

    I mean, I’ve seen better, more creative, odder, more mundane, less mundane, whatever images, that could be taken by anybody. How does this guy get a photoshopped image of water, grass, sky, path, to fetch four miiilllliiiooonnnnn dollars?

    I want to know because I have a hard drive full of images that I need to turn into cash.

  • Dave

    I never throw in my two cents on matters like this generally because so many already have, but I don’t see too many comments yet so I think I’ll have a go :D

    I’ve heard of Gursky before, but I couldn’t have told you he was a photographer. My take on the subject of the article is that it’s a reflection more of the buyer than of anything else – the photographer, the state of the art world, etc. I don’t find the image particularly enticing myself, but before I comment on whether or not the sale should or should not have taken place I have to put myself in his position: if I shot & touched up (PSed) a photo I didn’t particularly like but someone requested I put it on the auction block & someone else wanted to purchase it for $4.3 million, would I turn it down because I felt it wasn’t worth that much & I may be doing the art industry a disservice? That’s a resounding HELLS NO right there! If someone has that kind of money to spend & wants to give it to me, I’ll take it! And if the only way I could fetch such a price was to come up with something I was trying to “say” in the photo, I’m pretty confidant I could come up with something that made sense.

    Ultimately – as I stated outright – I feel (imo) it reflects more on the buyer than anything else.

    Also I have a truly ridiculous amount of pictures of fields if anyone’s interested…

  • lm

    It is significant for what the picture is and what has come before it. This image was not on a flicker page and was not just put up for auction, there is a history and importance to it. There are probably tons of work of art you or I don’t understand or like and that neither of us would pay millions for. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean the work is lacking in importance or of value. If you can’t appreciate that maybe it’s about time you crack open an art history book.
    I rather look at this image over most those over worked, over the top HDR images any day.

  • Travis

    I get the photo of the shopping mart, but this one eludes me….  While it is technically pleasing and all I still don’t get the price.

  • Ali

    It’s got NOTHING to do with the photo to be honest… it’s the PHOTOGRAPHER!!

    When I was attending art school back in 2006 we were shown his previous photograph he had taken the “99 cent..” and yes, I was able to appreciate the merit and art in that pic. Solely because it was good.

    Now the same artist/photographer takes a shot and presents it… one would “hesitate” to say anything bad about it!!

    Plus, the buyer obviously is not buying because the photograph is “worth it”… he’s investing in that name! Pretty sure he/she was kinda “lured in” as well by the auction house! ;)

  • James Zambon

    I do not mean to disclaim any of the quality of Gursky’s other photographs but perhaps you could all of us plebeians what makes this photograph any more special than some “over the top HDR image”. 

  • Anonymous


  • Nilesh

    This goes into my list of weirdest stuff happening around… ;-)

  • Dorin Dragan

    Maybe it was inside a really expensive frame…

  • Gabor Szantai

    I don’t want to live on this planet anymore…

  • Versoy

    Most of the works of famous painter Piet Mondrian, which are a part of world-class museums, art galleries and private collections, are basically composed of crossing vertical and horizontal black lines and colored rectangles within.

    I find it funny when art critics talk about the evolution of his art; whether the black lines were fading or stopping short when they approach the edge of the canvas. They say his work evolved further, when he began extending all of the lines to the edges of the canvas and began to use fewer and fewer colored forms, favoring white instead.

    He became a renowned artist with his early cubist work and his journey took him towards such an abstraction level which many of us, including myself, would never consider art.

    However, as an already established artist, he finds a way to express his artistic theory: “I construct lines and color combinations on a flat surface, in order to express general beauty with the utmost awareness. Nature (or, that which I see) inspires me, puts me, as with any painter, in an emotional state so that an urge comes about to make something, but I want to come as close as possible to the truth and abstract everything from that, until I reach the foundation (still just an external foundation!) of things… I believe it is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art, as strong as it is true.”

    Art is usually overpriced but it doesn’t mean they can’t have any artistic significance when some of us find them easy, simple, or even ugly. They may have artistic or historical significance, mostly related to how the artist himself evolved. Duchamp made an art out of an urinal, for god’s sake! You have to listen the story behind it to understand how!

  • Andreas Puhl

    Some Millionaire’s idea of trolling, perhaps?

  • Ceeelo

    Whether or not you think this is a good photograph is irrelevant. People making comments like ” my 10 year old could paint that” about artworks is the absolute antithesis of what art is supposed to be. The fact that he is a respected artist who’s work is highly valued by others is all that matters.

  • Anonymous

    Does anyone know the story of “The emperor’s new clothes”?

  • Merv Wignall

    Generally I give Gursky the benefit of the doubt, because his work is usually very big and extremely detailed.  This picture is 140″x81″ and I think a LOT gets lost in translation when it’s resized for web viewing.

    I have to admit though, this one has me a little lost.

  • James Smith

    This shows that people with money are not necessarily smarter than anyone else.  Tis isn’t even a particularly good photograph.  Because the photographer is “famous” some idiot with more cash than brains paid an obscene some for it.

  • James Smith

    This shows that people with money are not necessarily smarter than anyone else.  Tis isn’t even a particularly good photograph.  Because the photographer is “famous” some idiot with more cash than brains paid an obscene some for it.

  • George Rogers

    This image doesn’t do the original any justice, the colours are really dull like someones edited it to look bad to create controversy and get people talking. Go to Gursky’s wikipedia page to view a better image.

  • kendon

    anyone know where this was taken exactly? i live at the rhine…

  • Saravana K

    Hmm.. technically speaking this is the most expensive photo PRINT in the world. There could be other photos which were licensed over and over again for millions of dollars.

  • Spider- Man

    This looks worse than those photo tables you see at ‘art fairs’

  • drrjv

    If it were shot in the last few years, I would have thought it was an iPhone photo.

  • Anonymous

    Unless you’re buying his resume, why does the fact that he’s “respected artist who’s work is highly valued” matter? That’s art by an appeal to authority argument; “Is it any good? It must be, because other people say so!”

    It shouldn’t be about rep, it should be about the work. Everything else is networking and marketing BS.

  • phil

    As an artist and designer I can say that many times the meaning comes after the making. It’s likely that whatever the photographer is trying to “say” now is not what led him to shoot this.

  • 9inchnail

    This is so depressing. I live near the Rhine, I could take that same image pretty much every day. It’s not depressing that he had that idea first, it’s depressing that I could have taken that image, and no one would have taken notice because I haven’t made a name for myself in the world of “art”. That guy can take a photo of his own feces and get 3 million bucks out of it. Not fair, not logical, just stupid.

  • Mrbeard

    thye were buying the name not the art, still a nice picture though

  • 9inchnail

    Maybe this is some rich guys money laundering scheme…