‘Noire at Blanche (1926) is one of the most celebrated images in the history of photography, a masterpiece of the artist’s play between consciousness and unconsciousness,’ says Elodie Morel, Head of Photography at Christie’s in Paris. ‘This rare imprint came to us in brilliant condition and with amazing provenance.’
The photograph originally belonged to fashion designer Jacques Doucet (1853-1929), a famous champion of avant-garde art. Doucet acquired the print in the same year in which it was shot, by which time he already owned one of Constantin Brancusi’s La muse endormie sculptures and Pablo Picasso’s 1907 masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
The image of Man Ray’s lover Kiki de Montparnasse with an African mask was first published in French Vogue in May 1926. Its contrasting forms, colours and compositions instantly drew praise, and it was subsequently reprinted in other European magazines.
‘In the months leading up to the sale, each time I looked at the photograph I would see something new or find a fresh interpretation'
‘To execute this Noire et Blanche print, Man Ray worked from four different negatives, retouching and adding details,’ says Morel. ‘Because this work combines impressions from all four negatives, it can be considered the most “perfect” interpretation of Man Ray’s vision,’ the specialist says. ‘In the months leading up to the sale, each time I looked at it I would see something new or find a fresh interpretation.’
On 9 November, when auctioneer Phillippe Garner brought the gavel down at €2,688,750 (including buyer’s premium), Noire et Blanche became the most expensive classic photograph sold at auction; the most expensive photograph sold in France; and the most expensive photograph by Man Ray sold at auction.