Unique gelatin silver print. 1926. Signed in pencil on the recto; signed in pencil on the mount.
15¼ x 11¼in. (38.8 x 28.6cm.)
From the artist;
to M. and Mme. René Laporte;
by descent to the family;
Sotheby's, New York, 5 October 1995, lot 333A;
to the present owner.
See: Man Ray 60 anni di Liberta, Galleria Schwarz, 1971, p. 24, no. 47; Man Ray, Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, 1971-72, p. 99, cat. 233; Man Ray, 40 Rayographs, Galerie des 4 Mouvements, Paris, 1972, no. 26; Man Ray, Janus, Milan, 1973, no. 163; New York Dada, Duchamp, Man Ray and Picabia, Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, 1973-74, no. 102; Man ray, Carte varie et variabili, Padiglione d'Arte contemporanea, Milan, 1983-84, p. 86, no. 123.

Lot Essay

This unique Rayograph originates from the collection of René Laporte and is believed to have been acquired sometime before 1931. Laporte, an accomplished writer and publisher, was the founder of Les Cahiers Libres, an avant-garde journal he edited from 1924 until 1933. The journal incorporated Surrealist texts and images and included the writings of such leading figures as André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Jean Giraudoux, Lautréamont and Tristan Tzara. Les Cahiers Libres also presented graphic works by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Yves Tanguy, Foujita, Max Ernst as well as Man Ray. Laporte also published the seminal periodical Le Surréalisme au Service de la Révolution. Les Cahiers Libres was regarded as a significant voice for the Surrealist movement and many of its most celebrated figures. Laporte was also a member of the Zodiac Group, which supported Salvador Dali by buying his paintings in 1932-33. A twelve member group, Zodiac represented the elite of the Paris collecting world, and included such cogniscenti as the Vicomtesse de Noailles, Julien Green and Prince Jean Louis de Faucigny Lucinge.

Man Ray's camera-less photography began in 1921 upon his arrival to Paris. He quickly embraced the photogram technique, renaming it "Rayograph", and by 1922 had produced his celebrated series Champs Délicieux. Man Ray's creations were highly personal explorations, incorporating objects with references to his everyday existence as well as to themes in the emerging Surrealist movement. The simple act of placing objects on photographic paper and then exposing them to light was an extension of Breton's automatic writitng. It is widely accepted that Man Ray's Rayographs were embraced as the first Surrealist works in photography.

This oversized example from 1926, comes four years after his discovery of the Rayograph technique, and displays his mastery of the medium. 1926 was a particularly significant year for Man Ray. He had a one man exhibition at the Galerie Surréaliste, made the highly influential film Emak Bakia and collaborated with Marcel Duchamp on Anemic Cinema.

The machine made four-digit "hand" forms are imperfect and as such perfectly appropriate Surrealist elements. As Salvador Dali proclaimed, "the Surrealist object is one that is absolutely useless from the practical and rational point of view, created wholly for the purposes of materializing in a fetishistic way, with the maximum of tangible reality, ideas and fantasies having a delirious character." (The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, 1942.) Additionally the wire "hands" are reminiscent of the Surrealist interest in the use of mannequins, most prominently displayed in the 1938 Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme. Similarly the mysteriously oversized "wristwatch" is a recurring Surrealist theme, most notably seen in Dali's Persistence of Memory painted in 1931, just five years later.

There was a clear obsession with "hands" throughout the Surrealist movement, and they appear countless times in Man Ray's work. He took up the motif as early as 1920 in Puericulture, considered his first dream object. And in a 1972 interview with Pierre Bourgeade he described his dream and the origin of this work. He recalled encountering a little girl's plaster hand at a paint shop and planting it in a pot like a plant. And of walking down a street with hands popping out from beneath him causing him to weave between them. (Bonsoir Man Ray, 1972, p. 116.) Man Ray, the inveterate Surrealist punster even made a sculpture in 1935 entitled Main Ray, which plays with the French word "main" [hand] and the pronunciation of his name in French.

Along with this Rayograph, Laporte purchased only one other work from Man Ray, a print of "Glass Tears", also sold at Sotheby's in October 1995. It is remarkable that from the dozens of prints available to an art connoisseur of his influence and expertise that he chose these two. Oversized Rayographs of this kind are considered very scarce.

More from Photographs

View All
View All