Without speaking a single word of French upon his arrival in Paris, Man Ray was invited to Café Certa by his friend Marcel Duchamp; it was here that he met poet Paul Éluard among the other artists who would came to form the Surrealist movement. The encounter was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Man Ray and Éluard. Both held a high regard for each other’s work. Éluard wrote a poem in honor of the photographer after becoming drawn to his need for solitude. In turn, Man Ray always spoke very affectionately of Éluard and his poetry. They worked together on the piece Facile, which combined Éluard’s eulogies for Nusch, his wife, and Man Ray's tribute to Nusch's body. Les mains libres, a collection of Man Ray’s drawings accompanied by Éluard’s poems, serves as a tribute to the friendship between the artists and their devotion to the idea of freedom and play in art. The goal of the work was to show a true experience of Surrealist thinking.(Baldwin, Neil. Man ray: American artist. New York: Potter, 1988, p.196, 210, 211).
The sensitive portrait on offer here, conspicuously signed and titled on the recto, is especially large for a portrait by Man Ray.