MAN RAY (1890-1976)
MAN RAY (1890-1976)
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MAN RAY (1890-1976)

Portrait (Patti Cadby Birch)

MAN RAY (1890-1976)
Portrait (Patti Cadby Birch)
signed and dated 'man Ray. 42' (lower right)
oil on canvas
20 3⁄8 x 16 3⁄8 in. (51.6 x 41.5 cm.)
Painted in Hollywood in 1942
Patti Cadby Birch, New York & Los Angeles, by whom acquired directly from the artist, and thence by descent; sale, Sotheby's Paris, 13 December 2007, lot 29.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Pasadena, Pasadena Art Institute, Retrospective Exhibition 1913 - 1944, Paintings, Drawings, Watercolors, Photographs by Man Ray, September - October 1944, no. 35.
Further Details
Andrew Strauss and Timothy Baum of the Man Ray Expertise Committee have confirmed the authenticity of this work under the reference number 00286-P-2023 and that it will be included in the Catalogue of Paintings of Man Ray, currently in preparation.

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Ottavia Marchitelli
Ottavia Marchitelli Senior Specialist, Head of The Art of The Surreal Sale

Lot Essay

Man Ray’s portrait of the American collector, Patti Cadby Birch was painted in 1942 while the artist was living and working in Los Angeles. Transforming the sitter into a strange assortment of juxtaposed objects and forms – her head has become a simplified mannequin, set behind a cutaway brick wall, her blonde hair portrayed as a flattened plane of yellow – Man Ray offers a distinctive form of surrealist portraiture within the present work.
Man Ray had returned to his native America in 1940 as the Nazis made their way to Paris. Travelling with just a suitcase filled with a selection of his Rayographs, drawings and watercolours, he arrived first in New York before moving to California at the end of the year. At this time, Los Angeles had become a haven for many of the artists and intellectuals who had fled Europe during the war. Settling in Hollywood the following year, the artist entered a period of intense creativity as he began to reflect upon his career, revisiting and reworking earlier compositions and subjects from his oeuvre. As he explained, it was in California that he ‘could now concentrate on the long-range project of re-establishing myself as a painter. There was plenty to do. Besides the reconstruction of apparently lost works, I had sketches and notes for new ones which I hadn’t had time to realise in Paris’ (quoted in R. Penrose, Man Ray, London 1975, p. 149). While photography continued to offer an important stream of income during these years, painting became Man Ray’s primary creative outlet, with new works emerging alongside revisions of older compositions, many of which he had been forced to leave behind in Paris.
It was in Hollywood that Man Ray reconnected with Patti Cadby Birch (née Garnell). Born in New York in 1923, the daughter of sculptor, S. Tobias Garnell, she went to school in Paris, before returning to the United States. Realizing that her passion lay in art, she dropped out of university and started working in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where she met her husband, Everett Birch in 1952. As well as opening an eponymously named gallery in New York, Cadby Birch became an avid collector, acquiring a wide variety of art works from jewellery and antiquities to contemporary art. Over the course of her life she was an ardent supporter of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, where she served as an Honorary Trustee. Having travelled extensively in Morocco, she was a keen benefactor of the museum’s Islamic art collections, endowing a curatorship in this department, as well as supporting conversation projects and acquisitions.
Cadby Birch had met Man Ray in Paris in the 1930s and quickly became a devoted admirer of his work. Reunited in California, Man Ray made two portraits of her: one photographic (Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris) and the other, the present work. The photograph of Cadby Birch is closely related to the painted portrait. Man Ray has painted her in the same pose, with her head gently inclined and her hair falling down over her shoulder, but has reversed it, as if a surreal mirror image. Remarkably also, in his painting Man Ray moved his sitter from an interior to an exterior, using a pattern of leaves to demarcate the background and a cutaway red brick wall behind which the sitter emerges.
Transforming his sitter into a mannequin-like form was a stylistic technique that was inspired by the work of Giorgio de Chirico. Man Ray had adopted a similar approach in his art: the image of a jointed wooden mannequin reclining between a sphere and a cone had first appeared in a photograph of 1926, published in La Révolution Surréaliste. This mannequin continued to inspire his art, appearing in various guises in his painting of the early 1940s, including the present work. One of the key paintings from this period, Leda and the Swan of 1941, shows Leda transformed into a geometric robot. By reducing men or women to wooden mannequins and robotic figures, Man Ray seemed to be anonymizing, even dehumanizing the human form. Regarded in this context, Man Ray appears to be subverting the very nature of portraiture, transforming his sitter into a stylized version of femininity. The present work was acquired directly from the artist by Cadby Birch. It remained in her collection for the rest of her life, before it was sold in her estate sale in 2007. This portrait featured in Man Ray’s first ever retrospective, which was held at the Pasadena Art Institute not long after it was painted, in 1944.

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