4 Famous Nude Photographs in Art Auctions

When famous works capturing essence of the artist go up at art auctions, their value increases given the importance to the oeuvre. Here are recent auction results to consider.

Aug 29, 2019By Jacqueline Lewis, BA Art History and Architecture
Nastassja Kinski and the Serpent by Richard Avedon, 1981, via Sotheby’s

Numerous, historically relevant photographers spent a great deal of their artistic energies and time capturing nude images. They elevated the raw photograph of a nude body to a respected art-form in their own, personal methods. When famous works that capture the essence of the artist go up for auction, their value increases given the importance to the oeuvre of the artist.

The worth of these works can be seen in their current auction sales but it is important to consider every factor of a photograph when bidding in art auctions to avoid spending more than it is worth.

Here Are Four Recent Results At Art Auctions To Consider

1. Edward Weston, Charis, Santa Monica, 1936

Charis, Santa Monica by Edward Weston, 1936, via Sotheby’s

Auction House: Sotheby’s, London

Date of Sale: May 2019

Estimated Price: $6,000-9,000 USD

Realized Price: $16,250 USD

This work sold for well above the already considerable, estimated price. The condition report states that the photograph is in excellent condition and was signed by Weston’s son, proving its authenticity. The photographer is also renowned in the history of photography and the subject of this image encompasses his style, making it an important work in his oeuvre. 

2. Horst P. Horst, Mainboucher Corset, Paris, 1939

Mainbocher Corset, Paris by Horst P. Horst, 1939, via Phillips

Auction House: Phillips, London

Date of Sale: November 2017

Estimated Price: £10,000 – 15,000 

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Realized Price: £20,000

This classic photograph is also in excellent condition, signed by the artist and numbered. Like the previous Weston, this image was captured by a known photographer and this specific photograph is possibly the most recognizable work by Horst, making the photograph considerably valuable. The 

3. Man Ray, Juliet and Margaret in Masks, Los Angeles, circa 1945

Photograph of Juliet and Margaret in masks
Juliet and Margaret in masks, Los Angeles by Man Ray, 1945, via Christie’s

Auction House: Christie’s, New York

Date of Sale: April 2018

Estimated Price: $30,000-50,000 USD

Realized Price: $75,000 USD

This photograph is one of a few images Man Ray captured of these women in face paint. Given Man Ray’s importance as a visual artist of multiple media, the artist’s name itself raises the value on this photograph. In addition, this print is signed and stamped by the artist with a strong provenance from a highly respected gallery. This photograph sold for well above the estimated price, demonstrating the market’s respect for Man Ray and his quality photographs.

4. Robert Heinecken, SOCIO/FASHION LINGERIE, 1982

Chromogenic Prints by Robert Heinecken
Chromogenic prints Socio/Fashion Lingerie by Robert Heinecken, 1982, via Sotheby’s

Auction House: Sotheby’s, New York

Date of Sale: April 2017

Estimated Price: $3,000-5,000 USD

Realized Price: $2,500 USD

In classic Heinecken fashion, this image a composite of 10 chromogenic prints. The subject combines common thematic elements from media, with editing that critiques the true purpose of sexuality in advertising. Coming from such a famous photographer and being so indicative of his style causes this photograph to be valuable. It is also in good condition but it is not as rare. There are multiple prints of this in existence and it is not as vintage as other valuable photographs.

Things To Consider When Buying Or Selling Photography In Art Auctions?

Photos by Patrick Demarchelier and Helmut Newton
Portrait of Gisele by Patrick Demarchelier, 1999, via Christie’s (left); with Sie Kommen, Paris (Dressed and Naked) by Helmut Newton, 1981, via Phillips (right)

Determining estimates and appraising photographs carries a unique set of complications. There are millions of photographs in existence and most have little to no value, yet others sell at art auctions for thousands of dollars. To value photographs, one must consider the following:

  1. Photographer– Are they a well known artist?
  2. Subject Matter– Is it a famous person like Lincoln? Is it a historical moment?
  3. Condition– Is the photograph torn or sun damaged? How clear is the image?
  4. Provenance– Who owned this photograph? Can we prove the photographer by following its provenance?
  5. Auction history– What have similar (or the same) image sold for in the past?
  6. Rarity– Are there hundreds of this photograph printed from the negative? Is it a common subject without much artistic innovation? How old is this photograph?
Author Image

By Jacqueline LewisBA Art History and ArchitectureJacqueline Lewis is a History of Art & Architecture graduate. While studying art, she worked in the research department of The Chicago History Museum and wrote articles for Chicago Gallery News. Now, she is the Assistant Director of a long-standing, prestigious art gallery in Chicago. Throughout the year she works at major art events like the New York IFPDA Print Fair, SOFA and EXPO Chicago. She also writes and publishes articles about the art scene and historical topics.