MAN RAY (1890–1976)
MAN RAY (1890–1976)
MAN RAY (1890–1976)
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MAN RAY (1890–1976)
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MAN RAY (1890–1976)

Noire et Blanche

MAN RAY (1890–1976)
Noire et Blanche
gelatin silver print
signed and annotated ‘Paris’ by Man Ray (lower right); signed and inscribed ‘La femme aux yeux clos a une grande admiration pour la femme aux yeux ouverts’ by Kiki (lower left); stamped photographer’s Campagne Première credit three times (on the reverse)
Image/sheet: 6 5/8 x 9 in. (16.8 x 22.8 cm.)
Alice Ernestine Prin (Kiki de Montparnasse), Paris (acquired from the artist).
Asta Nielsen, Denmark (acquired from the above).
Hans Henrik Lerfeldts, Denmark (acquired from the Estate of the above, circa 1972); sale, Bruun Rasmussen, Copenhagen, 29 September 1992, lot 19.
Robert Mann Gallery, New York City (acquired at the above sale).
Michael Shapiro Gallery, San Francisco (acquired from the above).
Private collection, San Francisco; sale, Christie’s, New York, 5 October 1995, lot 19.
Acquired at the above sale by the family of the present owner.
"Visage de Nacre et Masque d’Ébène" in Vogue Paris, vol. 7, no. 5, 1 May 1926, p. 37.
Man Ray, Variétés, vol. 1, no. 3, 15 July 1928, p. 154.
Migennes, "Les Photographies de Man Ray" in Art et Décoration, vol. 54, no. 5, November 1928, pp. 154-160.
Man Ray: Photographies 1920-1934, New York, 1934, pl. 44.
M. Ray, Photographs: 1920-1934, New York, 1975, p. 44.
Man Ray: L'Immagine Fotografica, exh. cat., La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, 1977, pl. 55.
M. Ray, Photographs by Man Ray: 105 Works, New York, 1979, p. 44.
J.-H. Martin, Man Ray Photographe, exh. cat., Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1981, p. 106, no. 109.
Man Ray: Photographs, exh. cat., Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, New York, 1982, p. 106 (negative pair illustrated, pl. 109-110).
Perpetual Motif: The Art of Man Ray, exh. cat., National Museum of Art, Washington, D.C., 1988, p. 192, pl. 164.
M. Ray, Man Ray: 1890-1976, Taco, Berlin, 1989, p. 17.
Man Ray in Fashion, exh. cat., International Center of Photography, New York, 1990, p. 62.
Chadwick, “Fetishizing Fashion/Fetishizing Culture” in Oxford Art Journal, vol. 18, no. 2, 1995, pp. 3-17.
Man Ray: 1890-1976, exh. cat., Ronny Van de Velde, Ghent, 1995, pp. 40-41, pl. 52.
Man Ray, exh. cat., Serpentine Gallery, London, 1995, fig. 6.
Man Ray: 1890-1976 Photographien, exh. cat., KunstHaus Wien, Munich, 1996, pp. 16-17 and 24-25, pls. 2a, 1b, 24-25 and on the cover.
Man Ray: Paris, LA, exh. cat., Track 16 and Robert Berman Gallery, Santa Monica, 1996, p. 58.
Man Ray: La Photographie à L'Envers, exh. cat., Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1998, pp. 12-15.
Man Ray: Photography and its Double, exh. cat., Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, California, 1998, pp. 12 and 15 (negative pair illustrated).
Man Ray, Man Ray: 1890-1976, Taschen, Cologne, 2000, pp. 38-39 (negative pair illustrated).
Koetzle, Photo Icons: Petite histoire de la photo, 1827-1926, Cologne, 2002, pp. 180-185.
Castant, Noire et blanche de Man Ray, Paris, 2003.
Benton et al., Art Deco 1910-1939, V&A Publications, London, 2003, pp. 292-293 (negative illustrated).
Grossman and Manford, “Unmasking Man Ray's Noire et blanche” in American Art, vol. 20, no. 2, summer 2006, pp. 134-147.
Man Ray: Unconcerned but not Indifferent, exh. cat., MAN Museo d'arte della Provincia di Nuoro, Milan, 2008, pp. 19 and 170-171 (negative pair illustrated).
Man Ray, exh. cat., Museo d'arte della Svizzera Italiana, Milano, 2011, p. 124, pl. 102.
Man Ray Portraits, exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery London, 2013, p. 83, pl. 55.
Man Ray: Human Equations, exh. cat., The Phillips Collection, Ostifildern, 2015, p. 148 (negative pair illustrated, figs. 126-127).
Man Ray: 1890-1976, Cologne, 2017, pp. 38-39 (negative pair illustrated).
Sale room notice
Please note the updated provenance which is accessible online.

Brought to you by

Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of Department, Impressionist & Modern Art, New York

Lot Essay

Noire et Blanche – an icon in context

By Philippe Garner

Man Ray’s Noire et Blanche—his inspired juxtaposition of the resting “perfect oval” head of his lover and muse Kiki and a stylized Baule mask—is an epoch-defining image that has preserved its power to engage us close to a century after its making. First published in the Paris edition of Vogue in May 1926, this striking composition has invited multiple readings, referencing so many convergent aspects of the Paris artistic and cultural scene of the early 1920s while maintaining its unique, unforgettable aura of unfathomable mystery.

"Kiki’s Paris was the open society of Montparnasse, which offered individuals the opportunity to be themselves artistically, intellectually, politically, and sexually." Billy Klüver and Julie Martin

The immediate context of the making and first publication of this image was Parisian, but the fuller backstory is one of formative transatlantic dialogue, involving key figures who redefined the parameters of modern art in the 1910s and early ‘20s. The Philadelphia-born New Yorker Man Ray found a kindred artistic spirit in Marcel Duchamp, who had arrived in the city from France in 1915. They became life-long friends and fellow travelers in the avant-garde, key figures in the evolution of Dada in America and subsequently in Paris, where, invited by a repatriated Duchamp, Man Ray settled in 1921.

Specific cultural exchanges between New York and Paris would appear to have sown the seed of Noire et Blanche. The young Man Ray was avidly curious to discover the work of American modernist artists and that of their European counterparts. He visited the Armory Show in 1913—a historic introduction for an American audience to the European and principally Parisian avant-garde. And Man Ray was already familiar with 291, the gallery of Alfred Stieglitz, when this champion of photography and of the wider artistic vanguard, staged an exhibition in 1914 presenting the sculptures of Paris-based Constantin Brancusi—including the perfect stylized ovoid head of his Muse endormie—alongside traditional indigenous African sculptures, consigned by Paris dealer Paul Guillaume. Here, side-by-side, were the elements from which Man Ray was subsequently to conjure his masterful Noire et Blanche. Writing later, in his memoir Self Portrait, Man Ray evoked those times: “My mind was in a turmoil—the turmoil of a seed that had been planted in fertile ground, ready to break through.” Man Ray respected Stieglitz’s visionary spirit and activities and in Self Portrait was to acknowledge Stieglitz’s defence of Duchamp’s notorious 1917 Fountain, a ceramic urinal, submitted for an art exhibition but rejected. “Stieglitz, to voice his protest,” wrote Man Ray, “made a beautiful photograph of the bowl.”

But when Man Ray arrived in Paris in 1921, he was very soon developing ideas that took his use of photography in different directions from those advocated by Stieglitz. Man Ray’s instinct, encouraged by his Dadaist associates, notably Duchamp and Tristan Tzara, was to work against all the conventions of photographic practice, liberating its potential to present an alternative reality—of the imagination.

Man Ray’s talent soon situated him at the heart of the artistic community and its closely related figures in high society and high fashion. He befriended Brancusi in 1921, having first invited him to sit for his portrait. An early commission the following year was to shoot fashion for couturier Paul Poiret. He posed his models, chez Poiret, against a console on which stood Brancusi’s Maiastra. Poiret had been an apprentice to couturier Jacques Doucet, the great collector, who owned a cast of Muse endormie as well as African masks. Doucet, introduced by André Breton to Man Ray in 1922, sat for him and acquired exceptional photographs from him, notably the print of Noire et Blanche that was sold at Christie’s Paris in November 2017. Man Ray was now directly engaged in a milieu that appreciated both the formal purity of Brancusi’s sculpture and the expressive language of the art of African and other distant cultures.

Another stepping stone towards Man Ray’s masterpiece is to be found in a photograph he contributed to the July 1924 issue of his artist friend Francis Picabia’s Dadaist publication 391. Titled Black and White, it paired a Baule carved wood figure with a classic European bronze nude.

Kiki had entered the story in 1922, when she and Man Ray met and very soon became lovers. Kiki, née Alice Prin, needs little introduction. A mercurial, spirited figure, she was at once artist, artist’s model, artist’s muse, and a performer—as a lively and uninhibited cabaret singer and taking roles in several experimental films. Kiki became Man Ray’s model and inspiration through a fertile period of collaboration that generated remarkable images, among which Violon d’Ingres of 1924 and Noire et Blanche have justly become the most celebrated.

Noire et Blanche, a portrait of a performer and a document of a kind of performance, meticulously choreographed by the photographer, was published in Vogue in a section titled Théâtre. It seems appropriate that the present fine early print should have been gifted from one performer, Kiki, to another, her friend the Danish film star Asta Nielsen.

The Vogue context reminds us of the multiple outlets for avant-garde ideas, as exemplified in the extreme graphic stylization of the magazine’s fashion-related illustrations, with female heads delineated as perfect ovals with the most minimal lines situating their features, a corollary to the reductive abstraction that one associates with Brancusi or the sculpted totemic heads of Amadeo Modigliani, or with African masks. This is well demonstrated in an illustration for a Lucien Lelong perfume advertisement in the same issue.

Man Ray—the disruptor, the provocateur, the maverick creator of powerful artistic metaphors—invested himself fully in Noire et Blanche. This is a complex and seductively enigmatic composition that embodies the essence of the most adventurous and sophisticated aspects of the avant-garde of its time, and that has deservedly earned its enduring status as an icon.

Noire et Blanche – the print

This notable print of Noire et Blanche is one of the very few recorded early iterations of the image with a full provenance, and one involving so specific and evocative a narrative.

The print was made by Man Ray in his rue Campagne Première darkroom by enlargement from his original negative, most likely before he created the larger-format, more tightly cropped copy negative from which he subsequently made a number of contact prints. It is stamped three times on the verso with a rue Campagne Première credit stamp (M2). The two key indicators that tie this print to its original negative are: firstly, the inclusion in the image of more of the table to the left and of Kiki’s arm to the right than are present in the cropped copy negative; secondly, the presence of discreet hand retouching by Man Ray to a wisp of hair across Kiki’s left ear and to a tiny mole on her neck. This retouching is not present in prints from the copy negative as Man Ray made the equivalent retouching on the copy negative itself.

The print closest in type to the present work is in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art, New York. It too has an illustrious provenance, having been gifted to the museum by Man Ray’s early champion and collector James Thrall Soby.

At the time of cataloguing for sale in Christie’s Paris of the print of Noire et Blanche that had belonged to distinguished collector Jacques Doucet (9 November 2017, lot 10) we noted, from research published by historian Wend A. Grossman and Steven Manford ("Unmasking Man Ray’s Noire et blanche," American Art, vol. 20, no. 2, Chicago, summer 2006) that "approximately twenty-four prints" were recorded and that "each varies in quality and appearance." These include later printings. Among the very small number of early printings with fully documented provenance, the present print stands out as being at once a seductive artefact and, by virtue of its specific history, a powerfully intimate emblem of the remarkable creative association of Man Ray and Kiki in Paris in the mid-1920s.

Link to online illustrated essay below:

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