I have recently read about a print of Ansel Adams reaching $600,000 at auction in 1948 (equivalent of around $6 million US dollars today). This got me thinking that there must be other high value photographs out there, valued by either auction or insurance appraisal.

I know that the size of the print may be an impressive feature and that the authenticity is a big impact factor. Obviously artistic subjectivity plays a role in art, but insurers determine the value of these pieces from a purely financial point of view. What do they do to calculate this?

I want to get to the bottom of how to score authenticity and some examples of when such prints, both historical (taking into account inflation) and modern, have sold for or been insured for astronomical values.


2 Answers 2


I believe it is Andreas Gursky's Rhine II, sold for $4.3 million in 2011.

See this Telegraph article for some more details, including some other expensive prints.

Rhine II

Pedantic aside: Whether it's the most valuable is different to the most expensive in my mind, and even that is probably different from the highest sale price, which is all I've mentioned here (and seems to be the aim of your question?).

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ must come with one hell of a story, as it looks like any john and jane doe vacation snap. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 10, 2013 at 15:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ To some extent, not much of a story that I'm aware of. It was almost certainly bought as an investment (expecting to resell it for a higher price in the future) rather than anything else. This is to some extent Ben's (not so) pedantic aside. But yeah, you see better photos as Picture of the Week here every week in my opinion :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Nov 10, 2013 at 19:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelNielsen I don't get it either, but several things of note: it is a very large print, and there is extensive digital manipulation, which is more impressive in 1999. Although 4 million dollars impressive seems a stretch. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 11, 2013 at 2:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I guess it is the pioneering trumph card, that is the story there. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 11, 2013 at 8:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes I can't really speak to the why part of the question unfortunately. I guess photo-manipulation being "allowed" as fine art makes puts it in an interesting time? \$\endgroup\$
    – Ben
    Nov 11, 2013 at 11:48

Ben's answer was entirely correct when the question was asked, but the record was beaten in November 2014, when Peter Lik's "Phantom" sold for $6.5 million, although it may be worth noting that this was a private sale without any public record of the price. A minimal amount of greater detail is available from e.g. this PetaPixel article.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Its a nice pic, but I'm sure Ive seen hundreds as good if not better on 500px \$\endgroup\$
    – Octopus
    Dec 10, 2014 at 22:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ What a waste of $6.5MM. If it wasn't Lik, this would be overlooked. B&W? Come on. If this is fine art, God help us. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Dec 10, 2014 at 23:44

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