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Solarized gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York, Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Fund, and Judith and Jack Stern Gift, 2004.16
Welcome to VMFA and Man Ray: The Paris Years. This exhibition focuses on the innovative portrait photographs that the American artist Man Ray made in the French capital between 1921 and 1940. My name is Michael Taylor, and I am the Chief Curator and Deputy Director for Art and Education at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the curator of Man Ray: The Paris Years. I am delighted to welcome you to the museum today and hope that you enjoy this exhibition and audio tour.
Our first stop is located in the first gallery dedicated to Americans in Paris.
Self-portrait with Camera shows the artist, Man Ray, in his Paris studio with the tool of his trade, a wonderful German-made Zeiss Ikon camera in which you as the visitor are staring into the lens. So he is actually taking your photograph as you look at this work, even though it’s a self portrait, which means there is another camera that we don’t see, which is taking Man Ray’s photograph.
Man Ray was a master of self-invention. The son of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, he was born Emmannuel Radnitsky, in Philadelphia and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. His school friends called him Manny, so Emmanuel became Manny, which later became Man, and Radnitzky was contracted to become Ray, and thus around 1912 he had given himself one of the greatest and most recognizable art names of all time – Man Ray.
This is a gallery called Americans in Paris. It situates Man Ray amongst the artists, writers, and intellectuals who were all part of the vibrant American expatriate community in Paris between the two world wars. Why were they there? Well, first of all, the exchange rate in France was extremely favorable to Americans in the 1920s. So you could pretty much live like a king or a queen on a few dollars, and that was something that was incredibly appealing, especially if you liked fine French wine and cuisine.
Paris was also the capital of the arts; it was forward looking; it was where all the greatest artists lived and where you could make your reputation and fame. There wasn’t the censorship and Jim Crow laws of the United States. Everyone could reinvent themselves in Paris. So Man Ray gets to meet people like Gertrude Stein, who becomes a great patron and introduces him to the cultural luminaries in Paris at this time. Literary figures like William Carlos Williams, Ernest Hemingway, and Edna St Vincent Millay. And so as he works with these models and subjects you will meet throughout this exhibition, you will see that they are all reinventing themselves. This is a self-fashioning group who come to Man Ray with an idea of how they see themselves and how they want to be seen by others, and he was able to use his amazing skills as a portrait photographer to fulfill their dreams and establish their identities.
This exhibition thus offers a more complete account of Man Ray’s Paris years by focusing not just on his achievement as a photographer and his gifts as a portraitist, but also on the friendships and exchange of ideas that took place between the artist and his subjects in Paris between the two world wars.
Before we meet our subjects, a word about how to use this guide. This audio guide consists of stops in each gallery that will introduce you to some of the important and fascinating individuals in Man Ray’s photographs.
Each stop is indicated by an audio symbol next to a work of art. If you are using an audio wand, input the stop number located on the label next to the audio symbol. If you are using your mobile device, select the audio file associated with the stops for each room.
In addition to the information contained within this audio tour, be sure to read the large wall text panels that introduce each gallery. The gallery guide brochures available at the entrance reiterate the main themes for each gallery. We hope that you enjoy your visit!
Gelatin silver print
VMFA, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2020.5
Gertrude Stein was a modernist writer and art collector who lived in Paris. She was born in San Francisco but moved to Paris with her brother, Leo Stein. Around the turn of the 20th century, Gertrude and Leo Stein were among the most forward-looking collectors of modern art. So her apartment at 27 Rue de Fleuris was filled with wonderful works of art by Picasso, Braque, and Cezanne. She also hosted Saturday evening salons, where the great American expatriate writers and artists could meet their French counterparts. Without these salons it would be very difficult for someone like Man Ray to establish a footing in the capital of France, whose language he’s only just beginning to master.
Stein asked Man Ray to be her exclusive photographer. It was Man Ray who took all of her photographs for about a decade, which are reproduced in her books and used in magazines like Vanity Fair to establish Stein’s reputation. He also photographed her partner, Alice B. Toklas, and her white standard poodle named Basket. Sadly they fell out in 1930 when Man Ray finally presented Stein with a bill for his services. She famously replied: “My dear Man Ray… We are all hard up, but don’t be silly about it.” Man Ray did not take any portraits of her after this dispute, but Stein continued to use Man Ray’s earlier portraits in her publications.
So thanks to Gertrude Stein and her weekly salon, Man Ray meets American writers who come to his studio to have their portraits made. Incredibly important poets and novelists like Kay Boyle, Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and William Carlos Williams all come to his studio and publish those photographs in their books or bring them back with them to the United States where Man Ray’s fame is expanding. So Gertrude Stein and her Saturday salon were of critical importance to Man Ray especially in the early 1920s.
Before you leave this gallery, be sure to see Man Ray’s portraits of Gertude Stein and meet Hemingway and other writers who posed for Man Ray in Paris.
Gelatin silver print
VMFA, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2018.361
Another great social networker was the French creative polymath, Jean Cocteau. He was a poet, musician, composer, artist, filmmaker, and painter. He really believed that all of the arts were connected and no one creative expression was more important than another. Cocteau was openly gay, so he moved in circles that might otherwise have been closed to Man Ray, and he was something of a dandy in his personal appearance and style. You can see in this photograph that he’s immaculately dressed and he has this amazing derby cane, with the wonderfully carved curved handle. You can see in the portrait why Man Ray described Cocteau as a “sparkling dragonfly.”
Cocteau was someone who used his incomparable social network to bring new clients to Man Ray’s studio. So where Gertrude Stein belonged to an American expatriate literary and artistic milieu and helped introduce writers and painters to Man Ray, Cocteau expanded his subjects to include ballet dancers, composers, musicians, and performers, as well as artists and writers. And that is what is critical for Man Ray at this time; he is expanding his clientele, his network, and his fame in Paris.
Another thing to remember about Cocteau is that he was someone who really admired Man Ray’s photographs. When he first sat for his portraits he was just blown away by their visual power and creative innovation. Cocteau wrote Man Ray a letter of open admiration for his work, which he published in April 1922. So when you put them together, Stein and Cocteau help Man Ray’s career as a portrait photographer enormously since thanks to their introductions and social networks Man Ray meets the individuals that would become his subjects, who you will see throughout the exhibition.
Gelatin silver print
VMFA, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2018.36
This is the legendary drag performer, Barbette. Born Vander Clyde Broadway in Roundrock, Texas, Barbette was a trapeze artist and aerialist who performed in drag. While her performances in the United States were met with derision and censorship, Barbette became an overnight sensation and a huge star in Paris. In 1926, Man Ray was commissioned by Jean Cocteau, who was Barbette’s lover at the time, to create a series of photographs that showed her transformation through makeup and a blonde wig into a glamorous performer that the audience were convinced was a woman. It was only at the end of the act that Barbette would remove her wig much to the delight of the spectators. This photograph is the final portrait in the series and shows that the transformation is complete. Indeed, many visitors to this exhibition might look at this photograph and think they are seeing a woman. Man Ray’s portrait was used to illustrate Cocteau’s article on Barbette, which was published in 1926. Cocteau writes that Barbette’s transformation into a woman was so convincing that it was as if she had thrown chalk or powder into the eyes of the audience (and of course chalk is what Barbette would have used to help her grip the trapeze bar, while powder refers to her makeup). Man Ray was the perfect artist to choose to take this photograph given his understanding of lighting and composition which he deploys to great effect to enhance the illusion of Barbette’s transformation. That Barbette was Cocteau’s lover at the time really adds to the fact that this is a very wonderful and sympathetic portrait and it plays along with what Cocteau is arguing, which is that Barbette’s gender fluidity characterizes the progressive modern age they were living in.
Take some time in this gallery to meet Man Ray’s other subjects in Cocteau’s Circle, including Marie Laurencin, Max Jacob, Pablo Picasso, and Marcel Proust.
1921 (negative, printed later)
Gelatin silver print
VMFA, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2019.53
Berenice Abbott was a sculptor from Columbus, Ohio who moved to Paris shortly before Man Ray. They had known each other when they were both living in New York. When Man Ray established himself as a photographer in Paris, he needed a studio assistant to help him crop, enlarge, and print the negatives in the darkroom. So Abbott became his first studio assistant and they worked together until 1926, when she opened her own studio as a photographer, having abandoned her plans to be a sculptor. By this time, Jean Cocteau had persuaded her to change her name from Bernice to the French “Berenice.” In this portrait, one of the first that Man Ray made in Paris, Abbott is exemplifying the idea of the independent modern woman. Abbott and other modern women were creative individuals whose role in society was no longer defined by men. Modern women drove fast cars, smoked cigarettes, and had short, bobbed haircuts. The pre-World War I generation of their parents had very fixed gender roles for women that centered around getting a husband, having children, not having the vote, and basically being told all the time how to behave or dress. Rejecting these gender roles, modern women like Abbott wanted to be financially and creatively independent. By leaving Man Ray and establishing her own studio, Abbott was a great example of this desire for creative freedom. A proud lesbian like Berenice Abbott was not going to be told by men how to live her life, and that’s all exemplified in this wonderful photograph. She wanted to have the same career that Man Ray did and she had the guts and the talent to do it. And indeed, she goes on to have an amazing career as one of the most important photographers of the 20th century.
Gelatin silver print
VMFA, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2021.72
Another aspect of the modern woman was being assertive and no one was as assertive as Lee Miller. Here, you see Lee Miller having that very short cropped hairstyle that was typical of the modern woman. She was someone who loved to wear men’s clothes, especially baggy men’s trousers and sweaters. Miller is again one of those women who challenged the patriarchy at the time. These were not the shy women who would sit at home waiting for their husbands. These women were going places. And Lee Miller really captures that independent spirit. She was a fashion model in New York, working for Vogue magazine, but she realized that the life of a fashion model was short-lived and that there was always another Lee Miller coming behind her. So she spoke with an artist called Edward Steichen about how to become a photographer and he recommended that she go to Paris and study with Man Ray. So Miller shows up in a nightclub called the Drunken Boat, introduces herself to Man Ray and says “I’m Lee Miller and I’m your new student”. Man Ray was rather taken aback as he was about to leave for vacation. Without missing a beat, Miller says, “Oh that’s fine I’ll come with you.” So she had assertiveness and the guts to just go for it. Eventually Man Ray and Lee Miller become lovers and they had a wonderful creative partnership. She appears in numerous Man Ray photographs, but then like Berenice Abbott; she’s a modern woman, so she leaves Man Ray three years later, having learned everything she needed to learn about photography and the darkroom, and establishes her own studio and practice, much to the chagrin of Man Ray, who was heartbroken. But that was the modern woman. They were out to get what they wanted and they wanted to be creatively independent and have their own careers. Afterall, male artists had been doing this for centuries, so Man Ray had to live with the fact that Miller left him to become an incredibly important photographer in her own right.
We invite you to meet the other modern women in this gallery, including Jeanne Bucher, Suzanne Duchamp, and Janet Scudder.
Gelatin silver print
Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of William Russell Bogert, Jr., 1974.668
Man Ray’s portraits were very different from other photographers of his time. If you imagine going to a professional photography studio in Paris to have your portrait made in the 1920s, you would probably expect to be posed in front of a painted backdrop and surrounded by plants or other props. If you were a writer, there would be a typewriter and books. A painter would have an easel and brushes and paint tubes. You would be situated in the middle of the frame and each photograph tends to look exactly like the next one. Clearly that is not the case in Man Ray’s portrait photographs. Here you see William Russell Bogert Jr, who was a recent graduate of Williams college. Both of his parents died the year before, so he received an inheritance, which he used to fund a graduation present to himself – a trip to Paris. What you see in this portrait of William Russell Bogert Jr. is what happens when someone visits the studio of an avant-garde photographer. I can’t imagine Bogert went in there and expected anything other than a formal portrait of himself that looked just like any other professional photograph. But instead what we see is a mysterious portrait of him from the back, reading a book or piece of paper whose contents we cannot see. This ability of Man Ray to reject the stiff formality of professional studio portraiture and create a compelling work of art is one of the many factors that make Man Ray such a great artist. William Russell Bogert, Jr. goes back to the United States and at the end of his life he donates this portrait to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Probably at the time he went to Man Ray’s studio he had no idea Man Ray would become the greatest photographer of the 20th century. He was simply using part of his inheritance to have his portrait made and this is exemplary of what happens in these works. You can see it again in this portrait of Harry Melvill if you look at the opposite wall. Melvill was in Man Ray’s studio because of his amazing hands. In 1925 Man Ray was making an advertisement for Pond’s hand cream and he was looking for hands that were distinctive and unusual and Melville was well known to artists for his incredible hands with their long, tapered fingers. Notice that you see his twinkling eyes peering above the dark background he held up to frame his hands. When Man Ray saw this he must have known that he had a wonderful portrait of the furtive Melvill as well an image of hands to be used in a commercial advertisement.
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Francis M. Naumann and Marie T. Keller, Yorktown Heights, NY 7.20.21
This is the French singer and artist’s model, Kiki de Montparnasse, at the height of her glamour and fame. Her real name was Alice Prin but she dubbed herself Kiki de Montparnasse in honor of the Paris neighborhood where she and Man Ray lived. Kiki was Man Ray’s partner between 1921 and 1929 and a frequent model in his photographs. She was such a colorful personality and everyone knew her. And that of course was very useful for Man Ray as he was establishing himself in the French capital. In this portrait she wears a fur ruff around her neck and heavy makeup. As well as being a photographer, Man Ray was also a painter and he would apply her makeup to make sure that she would always look glamorous. Another fascinating aspect of this portrait is to consider what this photograph was used for? Was it advertising her cabaret act as a singer of raunchy French songs in a bar or nightclub? She also wanted to be a movie star and had appeared in many films by the time this photograph was made in 1924. We probably won’t ever know the truth, but it’s a wonderful way of Man Ray showing both his love and admiration for Kiki de Montparnasse.
Gelatin silver print
Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, 84.221
In addition to photographing the artists, writers, and cultural luminaries in Paris, Man Ray also made portraits of the aristocracy. Here you see Count Etienne de Beaumont, who was a great patron of the arts, especially ballet and the cinema. He was acclaimed for his wonderful masked balls where the artists and cultural luminaries of the day could mix with the aristocracy. In 1924, Man Ray attended Les Soirees de Paris, or Paris Evenings Ball, and he made photographs of the attendees arriving in their amazing costumes. Beaumont was interested in commissioning films, as this was a new form of cultural expression that was rapidly becoming the dominant form of entertainment thanks to the rise of the Hollywood film industry. Etienne de Beaumont was someone Man Ray went to when he was having trouble funding a film project that he was trying to make with Henri Chomette. This film essentially consisted of abstract imagery with objects reflected in mirrors and crystals to create a beautiful and poetic movie. But Man Ray and Chomette needed money to finish and edit it. Beaumont agreed, but on the condition that the two filmmakers add images of beautiful young women, much like those seen in Man Ray’s portraits of Kiki de Montparnasse, Lya Lady Abdy, and other portraits in this exhibition. He also insisted that he own and distribute the film when it was completed. The combination of abstract imagery and portraits of young women was irresistible and Man Ray and Chomette were very pleased with the results. Unfortunately, Beaumont took full credit for the film, much to the dismay of the filmmakers. The film was called What do Young Films Dream About? and Beaumont screened the film in London and Paris, claiming to be the director, with Man Ray and Chomette reduced to the role of cameramen, which was unfair given that this had been their film concept all along. So they cooked up a ruse to get the only copy of the film back from Beaumont. Man Ray suggested that he make Beaumont’s portrait, which is the photograph you see here. While he was making it, Henri Chomette searched his house to find and steal the only copy of the film. This theft created a temporary rift between Man Ray and Beaumont, but it didn’t last long, since by 1929 Man Ray included Beaumont in a movie called The Mysteries of the Chateau of Dice. He also designed a film theatre in Beaumont’s home at the end of that decade, indicating that the relationship was repaired.
Next, we invite you to meet some of the other film stars, patrons, and party goers that Man Ray photographed in Paris.
Film still of Kiki de Montparnasse’s painted eyelids from Emak Bakia, 1926, 35mm film, black and white transferred to DVD, 16 minutes, Private Collection
Man Ray made several films in the 1920s, but none more famous and influential than Emak Bakia, which is a Basque expression that means “leave me alone.” This film was made on location in and around the summer home of Arthur and Rose Wheeler, who were American expatriates in Paris. Arthur had made a fortune on Wall Street and Rose was an aspiring actress, and you will see a portrait of her in this gallery. When Man Ray agreed to make a film for the Wheelers, they decided to film it at their villa near Biarritz in the south of France near the Spanish border. This area was Basque-speaking, and the villa was called Emak Bakia. Man Ray drove there from Paris with Kiki de Montparnasse, his partner. Automobiles play a key role in the film. You see Rose driving her Mercedes Benz through the French countryside, arriving at the villa, doing the Charleston, and looking out over the bay. The movie continues Man Ray’s interest in combining abstraction with images of beautiful women performing for the camera that began with his earlier film, What do young Films Dream About? One of the most iconic and influential avant-garde films of the 1920s, Emak Bakia is an unforgettable movie that we are sure you will enjoy. Look out for Kiki de Montparnasse’s eyes in the mesmerizing final frames of the movie!
Gelatin silver print
VMFA, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2019.52
One of the most famous commissions that Man Ray received in Paris came from American expatriate, Sylvia Beach, and her bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. In 1922 they asked Man Ray to create a portrait of James Joyce for the publication of his latest book, Ulysses, arguably the greatest novel of the 20th century. The Irish author famously suffered from bad eyesight. He had numerous eye operations during his lifetime and, under the bright, harsh lights in Man Ray’s studio, Joyce felt his eyes hurting and so he looked down to give them a rest, and that’s when Man Ray gets his portrait. This is what makes Man Ray so great as a photographer. To capture that moment that has more insight and poignancy than if Joyce was just posing as a writer with the accoutrements of his career, such as books or a typewriter. Man Ray situates the Irish author in front of a plain burlap background with no props, so Joyce is alone and isolated. But the gesture of Joyce looking down imbues this portrait with a sense of melancholy. Man Ray knew he had his photograph and this is one of the most famous images of Joyce, and arguably one of the great portraits of the 20th century.
Gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 86.XM.626.3
The French artist, Marcel Duchamp, was Man Ray’s closest friend in Paris. They met each other in New York during World War I when Duchamp was evading military service, and they became fast friends. They shared an interest in chess, as well as the idea that art needed to go beyond the senses and appeal to the mind as well as to the eyes. It was this intellectual rigor that connects the two of them. They also shared a great sense of humor and an interest in eroticism and they saw each other every day in Paris during the 1920s. What’s great about this portrait is that it’s not the usual portrait that you would expect to see. Duchamp is actually hiding behind one of his works, a painting on glass called the Glider. It’s located in the studio of Duchamp’s brother, Gaston, an artist who worked under the name of Jacques Villion. It’s there because it has just been bought by a famous fashion couturier called Jacques Doucet. He had asked for it to have a frame made that would allow the glass painting to be shown both flush against the wall or opened outwards. The frame had a very unusual design and Duchamp worked on it with a designer called Pierre Legrain. The portrait of Duchamp was made on the day that the Glider was being picked up to be taken to the new owner in December 1924. So Man Ray’s photograph has a double function; it both records the work of art as it leaves Duchamp’s possession, but also captures something about Duchamp’s personality and wit and humor as he hides behind his own creation.
Please take a look around this gallery and meet Elsie Houston, Augustus John, Henri Matisse, Arnold Schoenberg and other members of the international avant garde in Paris between the two world wars.
Photogravure from Rayograph
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Margaret R. and Robert M. Freeman Library Special Collections
The next two images are Rayographs, a technique also known as the photogram where an image is produced by placing objects directly onto the surface of a light-sensitive material, and briefly exposing them to light. Man Ray renamed the photogram the Rayograph and greatly expanded the concept of cameraless photography to make astonishing abstract images. This is probably the most unusual photograph in the exhibition in terms of portraiture. This is a Rayograph made by Man Ray, so you can see that there are elements in here that are taken from his studio, like a funnell, or a wine glass that he has then exposed to light. So why is it a portrait? Well, in 1925, Jean Cocteau published a book length poem called The Angel Heurtebise, and what Cocteau was trying to do was to capture an experience he had while riding an elevator to the top floor of an apartment building to see Pablo Picasso, the great Spanish Cubist painter. Cocteau had taken opium so he was in a state of hallucination and while riding the elevator he believes that he hears a voice of an angel that says to him “my name is on the plate,” meaning the plate inside the elevator that is engraved with the elevator manufacturer’s name. This would be the French equivalent of Otis Elevators, which because of his drugged state Cocteau misreads as Heurtebise. As one can imagine, Cocteau was freaked out by this episode and wanted to come to terms with the experience. So he writes furiously for a number of days without sleeping, as if trying to exorcize a demon, and the finished book-length poem is one of his greatest works. By writing about his vision in the elevator, Cocteau concludes that the angel was an apparition of Raymond Radriguet, his former lover, who died of tuberculosis two years earlier.
So why is Man Ray involved? Well when Cocteau published the book he wanted to have a Man Ray photograph as the frontispiece, and Man Ray selected this photograph, probably knowing that Cocteau was a great admirer of his Rayographs. But when the book appeared, the publisher listed it as “Portrait of the Angel,” and indeed, in the text, Cocteau does write about having a photographer take a picture of the angel, almost to prove that it’s there. So this portrait will forevermore be known as The Angel Heurtebise, even though it was probably intended as an abstract composition with a funnel and a wine glass. Only Cocteau would know if this is what the angel actually looked like when he saw it in his hallucinogenic state.
Électricité (Electricity) from the portfolio Électricité
VMFA, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2021.93.1
In 1931, Man Ray was commissioned by the Paris Electricity Company to create a portfolio of photographs that would promote the domestic use of electricity. This is the beginning of the modern age of electric appliances, such as toasters, irons, and lightbulbs. Man Ray photographs these appliances in a very dynamic and forward-looking way, using all the techniques at his disposal, including Rayographs. Even though the Électricité portfolio was a commercial assignment, it was also an incredible work of art, and one of Man Ray’s finest achievements as a photographer. He included the portfolio in museum exhibitions and not only made the photographs, but also designed the packaging and wrappers for each work when they were sold or given away to the Paris Electricity Company’s most valued customers. He thus went above and beyond what was expected for an advertising commission. In addition to appliances, you also see the Eiffel Tower illuminated at night with electric signage advertising, among others, Citroën automobiles, Savon Cadum soap, and Velox photography paper. You also see Lee Miller nude, like the torso of an ancient Greek marble sculpture, with her body traversed with currents of electricity as if to suggest the powerful force of love and desire. This photograph got Man Ray in trouble with the Paris Electricity Company, but it is important to remember that he was never going to make something boring and conventional. In the end, the Paris Electricity Company realized that the portfolio was daring and modern and matched their ambition to encourage their customers to invest in new technology and appliances. That’s exactly what Man Ray delivered, so they used the portfolio to promote their products, including the risque nude torso of Lee Miller. Another important and previously overlooked aspect of this portfolio is the portrait of Tanja Ramm, which you can see on the wall to the right of this portfolio, in which she is wearing a heating element on her shoulder. At first glance you believe you’re looking at a kind of starfish-shaped brooch but it’s too big, so when you look closer you realize it’s an electric heating coil. And the fact that it dates to the same year that he was making the Électricité portfolio, really connects it to the project and makes one wonder if Man Ray originally intended to include portraiture.
Before you move onto the next section, please also check out other portraits in this gallery, such as Germaine Tailleferre and Tristan Tzara.
Solarized gelatin silver print
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 84.XM.1000.19
This is a portrait of the French cubist painter, Georges Braque, and it was commissioned by Cahiers d’Art magazine on the occasion of his major retrospective exhibition at the Künsthaus museum in Zurich. A museum retrospective is a major accomplishment for an artist when all of their works are gathered together into one large exhibition. This retrospective and the publication that accompanied it required a grand portrait – you can see that Braque showed up with a bowtie on and a smart suit – and Man Ray used a technique called solarization to capture the image.
Solarization was actually discovered by Lee Miller. One night in 1929 she was in the darkroom developing Man Ray’s fashion photographs and she felt a mouse crawl over her foot. She let out a shriek, turned on the light, and thus exposed the negatives in the developing tray to light, which has the effect of partially reversing the tones. So what was dark became light and what was light became dark. This process also gives a wonderful halo-like edge, which is like an invisible source of energy surrounding the figure. Another thing that should be pointed out is that even though Miller was the one who discovered the solarization technique, it was Man Ray who really perfected it over the next few years and by the time he makes this portrait of Braque he has got to the point where he’s really mastered it. This allows him to get the incredible detail in this portrait. You can see the checked pattern on Braque’s suit. You can also see the five-o-clock shadow on his face. And that’s really something that comes out of Man Ray’s endless experimentation with solarization. The portrait also showcases the artist’s technique of cropping and enlarging. According to Lee Miller, when Man Ray made a portrait, he would stand about ten to thirteen feet away from the subject. This would result in a small contact print that he would draw marks on, in this case in red ink, to indicate where he would like to crop and enlarge the photograph. And it’s in the enlargement process that he actually gets that wonderful softness of the skin. You very rarely see blemishes in Man Ray portraits – and you can imagine how popular that was for fashion magazines and movie stars. In the case of Braque, he also slightly changed the composition. Braque was actually looking downward in the contact print seen to the right of this portrait, but Man Ray adjusts the image so that Braque is looking up in the final portrait, which gives him a more confident appearance. That’s what Man Ray as a great photographer could do. He knew that Braque had the most important exhibition of his lifetime and was being honored by the leading art magazine of the day, which was devoting an entire issue to his work, so it had to be a really great portrait that both men could be proud of.
Gelatin silver print
VMFA, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2021.73
Portrait commissions for books and magazines provided Man Ray with a lucrative source of income in the 1920s and 1930s. This gallery contains many examples of the publications in which his work appeared, including his portraits of Wallis Simpson, which were arguably the most historically significant of all of Man Ray’s commissions. These portraits were made in Paris in March 1936 as a commission from the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar. Unbeknownst to Man Ray at the time, Wallis Simpson was not just in Paris on a whim. She had been told she was sent there to do this fashion assignment with Man Ray, but in reality she was there because King Edward VIII needed her out of the country so he could meet with her husband, Ernest Simpson, and ask him to divorce Wallis. The King was in love with Wallis – they met in 1931 and had been having an affair since 1934 – and he wanted to marry her, but this was going to create an enormous constitutional crisis in Great Britain, since if Ernest Simpson divorced Wallis she would be a twice divorced American – in other words, not a European princess, but someone who was born in Baltimore as Wallis Warfield. The church of England believed that a monarch could not marry a divorced woman and remained bitterly opposed to the marriage. Man Ray was not aware of this when he made his portraits of Wallis Simpson, but when the scandal breaks after Wallis returns to England, it’s Man Ray’s photographs that are used in the international press to break the story. In the end, King Edward VIII is forced to choose between marrying the woman he loves or remaining as the British monarch. He decides to marry Wallis and abdicates the throne in 1936. In the following year, the couple, now known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, visit Nazi Germany and meet with Adolf Hitler. This incredibly ill-advised trip would forever tarnish their reputation and one has to wonder and speculate what Man Ray thought of this visit to Nazi Germany, since he was Jewish and also a profound antifascist. There is nothing recorded in any of Man Ray’s writings or letters about his opinions regarding this matter. One thing we do know is that in November 1936, before the trip to Nazi Germany, Man Ray had been pressured by reporters to tell more about Wallis and her time in his studio. He refused to gossip and replied that Wallis was but one of many beautiful women who posed for his camera.
Gelatin silver print
Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with exchange funds from the Edward Joseph Gallagher III Memorial Collection; and partial gift of George H. Dalsheimer, Baltimore; BMA1988.422
This photograph is arguably Man Ray’s best known and most iconic image. It is a photograph in which Man Ray’s partner, Kiki de Montparnasse, is placed in a binary relationship with an African mask from the Ivory Coast, which was owned by the editor of French Vogue. This combination of a white woman and a black mask from Africa is troubling and problematic. On the one hand, Man Ray no doubt noticed how the shape of the mask emulated Kiki’s oval face and you can see that she slicked her hair back to relate to the mask’s striated coiffure. However, aside from these visual rhymes, there is the obvious juxtaposition of her white skin and the African mask, which is made of wood and stained black, that plays into Western assumptions about race based on colonialism and white supremacy. There was a demand for this kind of imagery in Paris in the 1920s due to French colonialism. This was the age of Josephine Baker, who often wore revealing outfits including skirts made of bananas, and what became known as negrophilia involved an immense amount of cultural appropriation and fetishization, especially of African art and culture. Man Ray was someone who was opposed to colonialism, and protested the 1931 Colonial Exhibition in Paris along with other Surrealists, but as you can see in this photograph he also continued the visual legacy of colonialism by playing with these problematic binary oppositions. Blinded by his own white privilege, Man Ray did not recognize that images like this were playing into racist assumptions rather than challenging them.
Gelatin silver print
Collection of Michael and Jacky Ferro
Ruby Richards was a singer, dancer, and performer who was born in St. Kitts in the British West Indies and moved as a two year old with her family to Harlem, New York, where she grew up. She became a performer first at the Cotton Club, where she was discovered and brought to Paris as a replacement at the Folies Bergere for Josephine Baker, who retired from the stage in 1937. The Folies Bergere needed a new headlining star and Ruby was plucked out of the chorus line of the Cotton Club to fulfill that role.
The Folies Bergere knew that Richards was unknown in Paris, so they commissioned Man Ray to create these glamorous and dynamic images that would give French audiences a sense of who they were about to see perform on the stage. She is surrounded by diamonds and feathers and wears incredibly elaborate, over the top costumes and headwear that possibly relate to her West Indian heritage and the carnival tradition in St. Kitts that is known as Sugar Mass, which may have inspired some of these extravagant costumes.
In the United States she suffered like all Black performers from the degrading effects of institutional racism and segregation under Jim Crow laws. The Cotton Club, where she first performed, at first excluded all but white patrons, even though the staff and entertainers were African American. In the American press she was often given racist epithets, such as “sloe-eyed Ruby” and “Curley Top”, which undermined her career and diminished her character. In direct contrast, Paris in the 1930s offered performers like Ruby Richards the opportunity to perform as an equal to their white counterparts and, with the vogue for negrophilia, to achieve a level of fame and fortune that was denied to them in the United States.
In Man Ray’s portraits of Ruby Richards, he’s really treating her as a great performer, regardless of her race. These photographs establish her image as a glamorous icon and convey her star power. He’s also using different techniques for these portraits. In two of these photographs you can see the use of double exposure, which was achieved by using a process known as a negative sandwich, where he’s put two negatives in the developing tray and when they are printed as one image you see a superimposed view of Richards from above and below or head on and in profile. The use of this unusual technique reinforces the idea that Man Ray was clearly taken with Richards and wanted to create these remarkable, charismatic images to launch her career in Paris. Sadly, the timing of her debut in 1938 was unfortunate and short-lived, since World War II broke out in the following year, forcing her to return to the United States.
Ruby Richards is today a completely unknown and forgotten figure, despite the international success that she achieved during her lifetime. What you will see in the case in this room are her family and publicity photographs and paraphernalia related to her career, including the album she recorded, called Zizi de Paris, which is what you hear playing in this gallery. Readers of African American magazines like Ebony and Hue were well used to reading about Ruby Richards’ exploits and accomplishments in the 1940s and 1950s, but the mainstream white media largely ignored her performances. We are therefore using Man Ray’s portraits to bring back this cultural icon and introduce her to new audiences through this exhibition.
Gelatin silver print
VMFA, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2019.277
This is a portrait of Andre Breton, the great French poet and founder of surrealism. Man Ray is the only American artist who was involved in the launch of both the Surrealist and Dada movements. Dada was a nihilistic form of cultural militancy that came out of World War I. The artists and writers involved in Dada were horrified by the senseless slaughter taking place in the trenches of Europe, which they protested in their manifestos, artworks, and performances. After World War I ended, Dada lost its cutting edge and was a spent force by 1924, when Breton and his colleagues, many of whom were former Dadaists, launched the Surrealist movement to replace it. As opposed to the nihilism and corrosive humor of Dada, Surrealism aimed for something that was truly revolutionary, which would change society forever, and their art and writing could lead the way.
Many of the Surrealists were writers and poets, but there were also visual artists, many of whom you can meet in this gallery, such as Salvador Dali, Valentine Hugo, Joan Miro, and Yves Tanguy, who all gathered around Andre Breton, their leader and author of the first Surrealist Manifesto. Surrealism took Sigmund Freud as its cultural hero, following his psychoanalytical ideas about dreams and the unconscious. What surrealism ultimately aimed for was a reconciliation between the freedom of your dreams where you have no laws and can live life in a completely free way, and the waking state, where you weren’t allowed to be a truly free individual due to economic, legal, moral, and political constraints.
This was something that was inspiring to Surrealist artists, including Man Ray, who embraced the marvelous and celebrated the fantastic in his paintings and photographs. Surrealism gave free reign to those artists who were already pushing the boundaries and encouraged them to push them even further into the realm of dreams and the imagination. Man Ray’s portrait of Andre Breton was made the year before surrealism was launched and captures the excitement of the early days of the movement as the Surrealists sought to change the world through their revolutionary ideas.
Gelatin silver print
VMFA, Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment, 2018.368
The surrealist poet, Paul Eluard, was one of Man Ray’s closest friends in Paris along with Marcel Duchamp. Eluard often made poems inspired by Man Ray’s drawings and photographs, and they collaborated on a wonderful book called Facile, which is shown in a case to the right of this photograph. Facile, which translates as “easy”, consisted of Man Ray’s solarized images of Eluard’s wife, Nusch, which were placed in a direct relationship with Eluard’s poems. Eluard wrote his poetry after seeing Man Ray’s photographs of Nusch and the resulting book was one of the most dynamic creative artistic collaborations of the 20th century.
This portrait of Eluard in his military uniform was made at the end of Man Ray’s stay in Paris. The poignant aspect of this portrait is that Eluard was a lifelong pacifist, but as an anti-fascist he felt it was important to fight against Nazi Germany so he joined the French army at the outbreak of World War II. This global conflict brought to an end the wonderful two decades that Man Ray spent in the French capital. As a Jewish artist and a profound antifascist, Man Ray’s life was imperiled by the German invasion of France in 1940, which prompted his return to the United States. He settled in Hollywood, California to try his hand in the American film business and continue his career as a photographer and painter, but that as they say is another story.
Thank you for joining us today at VMFA for Man Ray: The Paris Years. As you exit, continue to immerse yourself in the world of Man Ray and his subjects. Play a game of chess and even strike a pose and put yourself on the cover of a magazine. We also encourage you to learn more about works by some of Man Ray’s subjects that are on view in our permanent collection galleries or through our online resource available at vmfa.museum. We hope to see you at the museum again soon!