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)

  • heather

    How many times can I like this comment?

  • Valentino

    Oh, I understand all that. . . . I think the photo is beautiful. BUT, what I said in my original reply still stands, no matter how many art history books I read up on. THIS particular photo (even altered) is NOT art the same level as art you would fnd in any historical book . . . , please. And you mention “importance” and “value” and compare it to overprocessed HDR images on flickr for an easy comparison to prove some point that makes no sense, really. I would also look at this photo and overlook those worthless hdr images you mention. . . that is not the point.

    I’ll tell you guys the problem with the art industry today: a curator for PDN (NY) mentioned to me that a photo of a 80s phone on a  table taken with a point and shoot camera (film) was a great photo becasue it showed. . .  well here it is: 

     curator:I particularly enjoyed that telephone image that you refer to, because it signals the end of our analog era as a society, en phone was digital, and not analog, btw. . . hardly signaling much by way of art curator:The photographer’s camera is analog- a disposable camera, to be so the disposable camera used makes that image signal “the end of our analog era as a society, en masse.”
    Thanks for clarifying that!

    See!? I can;t be more cleaer on the BS that exists out there, watering down photogrpahy “en masse” for god’s sake. If you see the photo, it would be more clear. 

  • Damon Hair

    what? i believe in getting paid…but…what??

    hey billionaires out there, i’ve got some crap..i mean..wonderful photography, i’ll sell you too.

  • John D

    I am a self taught serious hobby photographer who enjoys the creative elements of both the taking and processing of images.  I always try and see any art for its merits irrespective of the subject however despite having a receptive open mind and having looked at this I have had to draw the conclusion that it is a case of some buyer who just wanted to have a ‘name’ hanging on his wall irrespective of the subject.

  • Damon Hair

    how ’bout paying that to some of the NatGeo photographers out there, who capture something truly stunning and put themselves at risk in doing so??

  • Mihai Mesesan

     I did see it on wikipedia, out of curiosity of who is this “famous” photographer. The image is even worse there, with the unnaturally enhanced colors of Photoshop. I agree with another comment I saw around here, it must be some money laundering action – there’s no real art or hidden significance in this image, no matter how hard you try to find one. The world is going down the drain if this becomes the norm for beauty, abstraction, art or feelings. My problem isn’t that a “piece of art was sold for 4.3 million dollars”; I’m more afraid of not losing real quality in things, because of people who would pay insane amounts of money for crap and call it art, or people who say something like: “if you don’t get it, then he must be genius… marvelous picture” No sir, it simply ain’t!

  • Flgraphics

    for that kinda dough, I’d at least expect a rainbow in the shot

  • cerevis

    Has anyone even noticed the print size of this photo??  81 x 140 inches!!! That is massive. I had the same reaction everyone else here had at first but I would kill to see this printed full size in real life. I am sure it would have a MUCH greater impact than a tiny 620 pixel wide web version where the colours are mostly inaccurate as well.

  • Anonymous

    I’m agreeing with this one. Gursky does some amazingly detailed work, and a bunch of whiners on a blog don’t really deter me from wanting to see the $4m dollar piece in person. I happen to believe the majority of beauty in a photograph comes out in the print, and a giant tangible one would have to be hella sweet!

  • Spider- Man

    If a turd is big or a turd is small, it is still a piece of shit…

  • Aurel Manea

    Please,  exit through the gift shop. right this way, on your left. thank you.

  • Roșu-Gutman Daniel
  • Cynthia Wood

    I think you have to take into consideration A) the size (or scale) of the print, and B) Gursky’s entire body of work, which he has built along with his reputation. That career-building process is usually a long one, and requires an artist to go through ALL kinds of steps and jump through all kinds of hoops to gain credibility, recognition, etc.

    Nobody’s going to pay you (or me for that matter) that kind of money for the photo you have sitting on your hard drive. You have to start putting your work out into the world in a way that commands attention; you have to dedicate your LIFE to both the work and getting it recognized (i.e., win contests, show in galleries, gain collectors, both individual and institutional), etc. etc. Once you’ve done all of that, and people are showing interest in your work, then maybe one day the photo you have on your hard drive, or even the one you plan to go out and shoot this afternoon, will command a similarly high price.

  • Roșu-Gutman Daniel

    No, I do detailed work, with ink, on paper, by hand and it takes months of painstaking work to get it done. This is a photo, a digital one, point, click, photoshop, print. Who cares if it’s 5 terapixels.

  • Annabelle Latter

    All this negativity is seriously disappointing.

  • Jorge

    I’m raising my prices….

  • Matt

    Sorry, but what makes you think he did those things?  It sounds like he got into the museum circut 4 years after becoming an artist.  Not a huge amount of dues there…  And, why does associating with the right people add anything to a work of art?

    But you do bring up the point most are not happy with.  Becoming a recognized artist is about name brand building and marketing and social iconism, a lot of work, but not really what most would consider Art.  I’m part of that band wagon, I think the ‘Art’ world is more about the person and how people want to think of ‘artists’ and less about their actual talent.  The historical record kind of shows that, how many of the ‘masters’ were “Not appreciated in their lifetime”?  The really means the artist did not build his name brand and associate with the right people durring his life, or maybe were just unattractive or unfriendly.  After they are dead the art comunity can then make up any persona they want.

    I looked at a few of his works, while I love highly detailed extream sized prints.  I see nothing really compelling about his work.  I do not even have the interest to find his work on the web, it just is not very good.  Not bad, not worthless, just not great.

  • Josh Ladella

    Interesting to note that Andy Warhol’s 1969 painting sold for the EXACT same price, down to the dollar.

  • gabe sturdevant
  • Ceeelo

    Unfortunately it IS all about reputation. This photograph is no harder to make than the next. But his reputation makes it valuable, and most importantly to the investor, it will appreciate in value over the years. Anyone can make an image like this, but very few can make a body of work desirable or have the luck or skill to convert that to dollars

  • Les

    Does anyone know what kind of cameras he uses to get such large, detailed prints?

  • Radeohed

    You’re clearly retarded

  • Radeohed

    The photo is not only technically boring, but also visually and conceptually. Dig your self important head out of your self important ass, you ass.

  • Valentino

    There are many other photos out there, taken with Mamiya C330s, Hasselblads, etc,. . . . many photos that can be enlarged even further. . . . still doesn’t change the fact that this photo got 4.3 mil, and how absurd that is. . .

    Yes, I also want to see it in person because I love photography, and to see a good photo of that size would be amazing. Still doesn’t change th. . . . 

  • Chromatic Dramatic

    I would love to have put this picture up in one of the Flickr Photo critique groups and see how it would have been panned…

    Something like:

    “your picture is crap”

    Said because:
         – the horizon is in the middle
         – it was edited in photoshop
         – the colours are wrong
         – or most probably wasn’t taken by the person giving the critique!

  • Kitchenshine

    We all should be dissatisfied with the general cultural elitism of the art world and their rich corporate trustees.  For the past decade, artists and art lovers have been the victims of intense commercialization and co-optation of art.  Such art/photography is propagated by multi-millionaires in their realm click to exclude, and to feel more important…ie… better than the rest of us.  Their pandering solicitors/salesmen/snobbed gallery owners/lobbyists create this false air of value on a lucky few who will do anything they ask of them…anything.  

  • Johnpackage

    Crazy…. totally crazy, take a look at this critique of it!

  • Jason

    I think you’ll find nearly every decent image taken on a digital camera has been photoshopped Kurt. Photoshop isn’t the devil, it’s just the digital version of the darkroom.

  • Cameron Knight

    If you look at Gursky’s work, it now looks clique and over done. The flattening perspective of his images have entered the common visual language, but what I think you’re missing is that Gursky was pretty much the first person to bring it to light. You look at his images and they look like things you’ve seen before. What you don’t understand is that he did a lot to inject this visual composition into our minds. We all know the “flat” look, but he pretty much invented it. Look at Annie Lebowitz’s early work. It now all seems clique, but she injected her visual perspective into the common world. Her work was so groundbreaking that it was imitated so much that things in her early style seems amateurish now.

  • lm

    There is a lot of BS in the art world but I do still find this image significant. Around 1999 when this image was made most people were in the film world, digital was still emerging, photoshop was used but his take on the tool was different- removing buildings to make the landscape more minimal etc. (see: )
    The market and the amount of money spent on photography and art is another thing. If you had that much disposable income and you enjoyed art or thought you could make money on it maybe you would buy this or something just as expensive. Donation to a world class museum (do I hear tax write off?).

  • Meropealcyone

    What’s the difference?

  • J_tilman23

    Just out of curiosity, who’s the retard that bought this crap? Real smart.

  • Anonymous

    It just makes me think of “a fool and his money”.

  • Anonymous

    Actually I think that if you came up with something that made no sense but sounded like it should might be the way go. The pseudo intellectual approach is what catches out people with more money than sense.

  • Anonymous

    I read that quote and I want to cry “The King has no clothes”.

  • Anonymous

    It might make it valuable but that doesn’t mean that it is good art.

  • Vincent

    Why nobody bother to make even a simple google search on an artist they don’t even know ? I had the chance to see Gursky’s print in Paris, and it blew my mind ! 

    First, you need to think that this prints are massive AND perfect. The colors, the details, the composition, the way they work displayed with the other pictures, was all the mark of a photographer maniac with precision. 

    This is no iPhone picture, go watch it if you can. You need to think that the camera he was using might have bigger negative than your computer screen. There is absolutely no point looking at this picture other than as a document. The few pixels on your screen are not the masterpiece. The master piece is this giant cibachrome that reveals something.

    So what does it reveal ? A google search might help you too, specially a search about Dusseldorf School of Photography, which is a major movement in photography. Gursky evolved from it but basically, the idea is to be as neutral, flat, distanciated to your subject, as real sociologists or anthropologists are. August Sander back in the 20’s launched that movement by a methodic documentation of every people, from every class and gender and age of his city. And today we have moving portraits of the baker, the prostitute, the lawyer, the school kid in a normal german town.

    Gursky decided to explore contemporary landscape at the end of the 20th century. He wasn’t looking for the stunning, rare, exotic places that Nat Geo photographers burst. He was trying to make his point showing how domesticated, boring, constrained, our landscape are becoming. And he covered it at a great extent, and I think he made his point.

    When you buy art, you don’t buy a postcard. You buy an idea, an approach, a vision (if you don’t  have money, as me, don’t buy, just go to museum on free wednesdays). The best photographers have a corpus of work that holds that vision better. A single picture is not the entire work, series are a very important approach for a photographer.

    About this one picture, it was one of my favorite, (with “cable car”, some public housing near montparnasse, and of course the 99 cents). If you are west-european, you know that the Rhine is the border between France and Germany. Europe was being built, growing. This border seems flat, thin, empty, boring, casual, fake, with nothing at the horizont. What does it tell you about this border which was the stake of many battles ?

    As Cameron Knight says, the flat style has been so overused now for any pictures criticizing modern societies, than it has been used for US, China, Europe, in Hollywood movies, in environmentalist documentaries… Is it the sign that he had a vision ?

    The money point is the least interesting. Art buyers don’t buy art because they love art, they buy art because it’s an investment. And sometimes art pieces resist crisis better than the dollar, or the euro, that for sure. Point

  • ultimateFstop

    Wahahahahaha! Brilliantly said!

  • Sunil Thakkar

    totally agree with you vincent… vision is what makes the photograph… also this image is not intended to be viewed on a small screen… it takes away from what the photographer is trying to say…

  • chettusia

    is a very stupid photo…incredible how people could be so stupid some time

  • Alan Light

    In other words, one pretentious ass was able to fool another pretentious ass into parting with his money.  Well, I suppose congratulations are in order for the seller.

  • Ericmichael

    I just took a picture with my iPhone of the picture on the screen. I’ll start bidding at 250K

  • Guest

    I don’t dispute much of what you said, but this photograph was digitally edited, not just digitally corrected. To me, that takes away a lot – this isn’t a real capture of real life. And there’s no point in discussing it being displayed with other photos unless the buyer bought the gallery. This is a discussion of whether the photograph is worth the price paid, not whether it has any value at all.

    To me, the price paid was ridiculous. Yes, the photograph has value, but nowhere near what was paid for it.

  • Clicker

    No, it would not pass Flickr regulars’ critiques.  Perhaps it’s such a boring image that it’s somehow strangely interesting to some…  Who knows???  I don’t get it  I love most forms of artistic expression–but this pale, ‘stretched’ image just isn’t ‘art’ to me.  Of course, I don’t have 4.3m to burn, so there ya’ go.  

  • Samuel Hiser

    You have to see these works in person.  

  • Vincent

    Artists have always used technology. You can use analog black & white today if you want, but does it really serve your vision. Art is not about technical talent (from how good you are to process your black and white film to how good you are with *toshop), it’s about bending the technics to your vision.

    In that sense, I don’t see any difference between a good analog colorist and a good digital colorist. Photographers have used collage, montage, truquage, editing, cutting, changing in processing their pictures for ages now. As long as the vision is served, I don’t see why any photographer should be blamed for using technology to serve his vision ?

    As for the price, I repeat, it’s just an investment. No different than a share from a company, just less risky maybe… And some people do have this amount of money to stock art objects in a place where nobody will see them until next auction. I don’t know of any artist who ever controlled the price of his art.

  • chris

    fyi people, the size of this photo is 73 by 143 inches.  it was shot with a large format camera and then imported digitally.  this is not something your phone or dslr can produce.  also, please find me someone on flickr who has a body of work approaching gursky’s.

  • toyfoto

    View a Gursky in person. You’ll understand the reason for the hoopla.

  • Squeamish Ossifrage

    >So, as an art buyer I am supposed to know what he is “saying?” 

    Of course. That’s what art is: The non-literal expression of an idea

  • Skeet