Man Ray's iconic Violon d'Ingres goes up for auction: will it become the most expensive photo ever?

Going up for auction in May is Man Ray's celebrated Violon d'Ingres, a Surrealist portrait of Kiki de Montparnasse: it is the highest-estimated photograph ever and could therefore become the most expensive photo in history.

Going up for auction in May at Christie ’s is one of the most famous photographs in history: Le violon d’Ingres (“The Violin of Ingres”), a 1924 work by Man Ray (Philadelphia, 1890 - Paris, 1976), which with an estimate of between $5 million and $7 million is the single highest-valued photograph in history and could therefore become the most expensive. Le violon d’Ingres is the top lot in The Surrealist World of Rosalind Gersten Jacobs and Melvin Jacobs auction, featuring pieces from the collection of Rosalind Gersten Jacobs and Melvin Jacobs.

This collection, which grew out of the collectors’ personal ties to the artists and a deep love of art, includes a selection of artwork, photography, jewelry, posters and other objects. Many of the works were created from moments of spontaneous inspiration and creative collaboration, truly embodying the spirit of the Dada and Surrealist movements. The collection will be offered in a live sale in May at Rockefeller Center, but there will also be other works that will be sold in a dedicated online sale. In total, the sales are estimated to realize more than $20 million.

An American fashion buyer and retail executive, Rosalind Gersten Jacobs, who is particularly passionate about surrealist art, was first introduced to surrealism in 1954 by gallery owner, patron and artist William Copley and his wife, Noma, and through the couple met and knew Man Ray in person. This fateful meeting would mark not only the beginning of Rosalind’s collecting, but would set her on a new path of artistic discovery and set in motion a series of close friendships with artists including Marcel Duchamp, René Magritte, Max Ernst, Dorothea Tanning, and others. Rosalind Gersten Jacobs was not only a collector of Man Ray but, as Wendy Grossman put it, an “accomplice in [his] creative experimentation,” remaining an ardent supporter of the artist until his death in 1976.Man Ray, Le violon d'Ingres (1924)Man Ray, Le violon d’Ingres (1924)

The image going up for auction, one of the masterpieces of world photography, depicts Man Ray’s model, muse and lover, Kiki de Montparnasse, naked from the back, with the shape of her body resembling that of a violin, so much so that Man Ray modified it by adding two “F”-shaped ink inserts to resemble the two side slits in the violin case (called just effe because of their shape). The title of the work is meant to be a tribute to Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, since the great neoclassical painter’s favorite pastime was precisely the violin.

“It’s a real pleasure for Christie’s,” says Christie’s America president Marc Porter, “to present the celebrated collection of Rosalind Gersten Jacobs and Melvin Jacobs during our main week in New York this spring. Ranging from surrealist photography, painting, sculpture, jewelry and more, the examples within this collection represent the absolute best in a wide range of categories. Exceptional pieces come together harmoniously in this unparalleled collection as a testament to the Jacobs’ superb taste and artistic sensibility, beautifully reflecting the depth and significance of the friendships they developed with Man Ray, Duchamp, Copley and many others of the 20th century’s most important artists.”

“The Rosalind Gersten Jacobs & Melvin Jacobs Collection,” comments Darius Himes, Christie’s head of international photography, “is extraordinary and built through intimate relationships with artists in their circle. Man Ray’s Le Violon d’Ingres, 1924, depicting Kiki de Montparnasse is undoubtedly one of the most iconic works of the 20th century. This seductive surrealist image is the result of a unique, hand-edited darkroom process. Although reproduced countless times and penetrated the popular consciousness, the artist kept this work, the original, until 1962 when the Jacobs became its custodians. The scope and influence of the image, at once romantic, mysterious, ironic and playful, has captured everyone’s minds for nearly 100 years. As a photographic work, it is unprecedented in the market. We are proud to manage it.”

“We are honored to offer this special collection consisting of a wide range of artworks by European and American Surrealist artists, whom the Jacobs believed were kindred spirits and many of whom they would support professionally when the artists were in financial distress,” says Cyanne Chutkow, Christie’s vice president for Impressionist and Modern Art. "Each work in the collection carries a unique story, and each anecdote further underscores the value of those close friendships. Although Man Ray’s works are central to their collection, the Jacobs also acquired six exquisite works by René Magritte that revel in the juxtaposition of artifice and illusion, mass and volume, and representation itself. The enigmatic gouache Eloge de la dialetique was offered as a birthday gift from William and Noma Copley to Rosalind Gersten Jacobs, and would become the starting point of their collection."

“My parents had close friendships with a number of extraordinary Surrealist artists, particularly Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Bill and Noma Copley,” points out Peggy Jacobs Bader, daughter of Rosalind Gersten Jacobs and Melvin Jacobs. “They introduced Roz and Mel to Surrealism and other members of that creative community, who wholeheartedly embraced these two young and creative fashion merchants. The artists were mentors who not only inspired and guided my parents, but were also instrumental in curating the collection. The acquisition of almost every piece has a unique and intimate story behind it. The joyful spirit of my parents’ relationship with artists is reflected in the works they accumulated. Looking through the collection, one gets a visceral sense of my parents’ love of surrealism, their discerning eye for great art, their playfulness and, at times, their mischief.”

Man Ray's iconic Violon d'Ingres goes up for auction: will it become the most expensive photo ever?
Man Ray's iconic Violon d'Ingres goes up for auction: will it become the most expensive photo ever?