Click To View Biography
LEE MILLER, 1931 by (EMMANUEL RADNITZKY) MAN RAY (1890-1976) - photograph for sale from Beetles & Huxley




UNTITLED, 1925 by (EMMANUEL RADNITZKY) MAN RAY (1890-1976) - photograph for sale from Beetles & Huxley





Man Ray's great influence on twentieth century art covers a range of disciplines including painting, photography, sculpture and film. A key member of the Dada and Surrealist movemenst, he considered himself to be principally a painter, but in fact made his most significant contributions in the genres of fashion, portrait, and camera-less photography.

Man Ray was born Emmanuel Radnitzky on 27 August 1890 in Philadelphia, USA. He was the first of four children born to Melach Radnitsky, a tailor, and Manya Louira, both Jewish-Russian immigrants. The family relocated to Brooklyn, New York, in 1897 where Radnitzky attended the Boy's High School from 1904-1908. There he learned drawing and industrial draughtsmanship and, supplemented with regular visits to the Museum of Modern Art, developed a keen interest in art. A course at the free-thinking Ferrer School of Art, between 1910 and 1911, and a visit to the groundbreaking International Exhibition of Modern Art at the Armory, in 1913, confirmed his ambitions to be an artist himself.

In 1911, his family adopted the more American sounding surname, Ray, and their eldest son adapted his nick-name, Manny', to become Man Ray. With a new name, and new passion, Man Ray set about absorbing himself into the New York art world, renting a cottage in a New Jersey artist's community, and becoming drawn into a set of radical, iconoclastic artists and writers. In 1915 he held his first one-person show of paintings, highly influenced by Cubism, at the Daniel Gallery in Manhattan. He also met Marcel Duchamp for the first time, who was to become his closest friend and artistic collaborator.

While New York provided Man Ray a heady and inspiring mix of Modern art and exotic companions, it did not bring him success. This, combined with a failed marriage to the poet, Adon Lacroix, drove him to relocate to Paris in 1921, the centre of the avante-garde at the time. With Duchamp, who had moved to Paris a few months before him, Man Ray began to live a typical, and successful, bohemian life in the Montparnasse district of the city. However, his success came from an unexpected direction. Despite holding onto ambitions of being a painter, it was through photography that Man Ray found his first taste of fame, and money.

He became well-known for his portraits of fellow artists and writers including George Braque, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse but also for his daring, unusual and, crucially, camera-less photographs. He called them "rayographs", after himself. Taking varieties of found objects, Man Ray would place them on light-sensitive photographic paper (in the dark) and then expose the paper with bursts of light. This would result in the objects' silhouettes being left on the newly blackened paper. He also used bursts of light to add further patterns and highlights. This technique was not new, the process having been invented by William Fox Talbot in the 1830s, and the official name for the result was a "photogram". However, it was nevertheless sufficiently innovative to keep Man Ray at the forefront of the Parisian Avant-garde, not least because the found and unconnected nature of the objects used fitted into Dada principals.

Man Ray made many rayographs, but also made experimental films, worked as a fashion photographer, and took studio photographs, pursuing his own artistic agenda, which was becoming increasingly Surrealist. By the time May Ray exhibited in the first Surrealist exhibition in 1925, with Jean Arp, Joan MirĂ³, AndrĂ© Messon, Pablo Picasso and others, he had already become a shining light of the movement. Man Ray's straight photographs were as inventive as his rayographs, and have since become Surrealist icons. His four-eyed portrait of the Marquise Casati (1922) is a blurred face, full of energy and completely detached from conventional portraiture of the time. Conversely, his elegant, Le Violin d'Ingres (1924), in which his lover, Kiki de Montparnasse is pictured nude, with the distinctive, f-shaped sound holes of a violin embedded in her back, is a masterpiece of restrained, art-historical iconoclasm and Surrealist dream-weaving.

Man Ray's growing influence was not just directly through his art, but also through his associations. From 1923-26, Man Ray took on the young American photographer, Berenice Abbott as his studio assistant. She went to become one of the 20th century's greatest photographers, and his influence can be seen throughout her work. Additionally, she re-established the reputation of French photographer, Eugene Atget (1857-1927) by buying and giving his archive to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His work had first been rediscovered by Man Ray, and other Surrealists, in the early 1920s, and championed as early, unintentional Surrealism. In 1929 Man Ray took on the photographer and model, Lee Miller, as an assistant (and lover). Together they resurrected the photographic process of solarisation in which a developing print is exposed to light, thereby giving the image's contents an otherworldly glow. Much of Man Ray's work from this period is characterised by this technique. They became a celebrated art-world couple and, until they split in 1934, created a number of photographic masterpieces. Chief among them was A l'heure de l'observatiore, les Amoureux (1932-4), in which Lee Miller's lips hover over Paris. Through out the nineteen years he spent in Paris, he also continued to work in other mediums, directing many experimental films and collaborating on other projects within his close-knit artistic circle that included Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia.

Like many of his friends Man Ray returned to the United States in 1940, due to the outbreak of the Second World War. He spent a few months in New York before quickly moving to California, in search of Hollywood and further artistic glory. However, the Parisian years were his most innovative and influential period and, although he continued to work productively in the United States, he found it harder to find the support and admiration that he had appreciated in France. In California he met Juliet Browner, a dancer and model, whom he married in 1946 in a dual ceremony with Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning.

In 1951, Man Ray returned to Paris with his wife where he continued to work and exhibit. He remained there until his death, from a lung infection, on 18 November 1976.

Related Links

Enter your email to be the first to hear about
exhibitions, events and the latest acquisitions