Classic Man Ray Photo Sells for $130,000 at Auction

Le Violon d’Ingres (1924) by Man Ray.

Two years after Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres became the most expensive photo ever sold, another print of the iconic image has gone at auction for $130,000.

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.

The image that sold for a record $12.4 million in 2022 was produced in 1924 and signed by the U.S. artist — skyrocketing the value. The print that sold yesterday was made from the original negative in 1970 in Paris and under the supervision of Man Ray.

Christie’s, which held the auction, had the price estimated at around $50,000 but after vigorous bidding that figure more than doubled.

The Violon d’Ingres print was among a number of Man Ray’s paintings, designs, and sculptures sold off. The collection came from one of the artist’s friends and The Guardian reports that the sale lasted over five and a half hours bringing in an estimated $3.88 million (€3.65 million).

“There aren’t any other complete collections representing the whole range of Man Ray’s work like this and it’s the first to be sold by someone who actually knew him,” Elodie Morel-Bazin, the European head of photography at the auctioneers Christie’s, tells the British newspaper.

“It covers all the techniques he used and the art he produced through all periods of his life.”

Not all of the pieces at the auction met their estimated prices, including a number of his photographic prints. A gelatin silver print of Catherine Deneuve, wearing earrings designed by Man Ray, reached $34,000 (€32,000), more than double the estimate, but a 1924 self-portrait struggled to reach $5,000.

Le Violon d’Ingres was first published in a special June 1924 issue of Littérature, a struggling surrealist magazine that was launched in 1919 and shuttered after the final issue that Man Ray’s photo appeared in. In the century since the publication of Le Violon d’Ingres, the photo has become one of the most recognizable works of surrealist art.

“He also added the title Le Violon d’Ingres, a French idiom that means ‘hobby,'” Getty describes. “The transformation of Kiki’s body into a musical instrument with the crude addition of a few brushstrokes makes this a humorous image, but her armless form is also disturbing to contemplate. The title seems to suggest that, while playing the violin was Ingres’s hobby, toying with Kiki was a pastime of Man Ray. The picture maintains a tension between objectification and appreciation of the female form.”

Image credits: Le Violon d’Ingres is Public Domain and provided courtesy of Christie’s.