MAN RAY (1890 - 1976)
Lee Miller, a sequence of three nude studies, c. 1930

three gelatin silver prints

each credited in an unknown hand in pencil (verso); credited, titled and dated on affixed exhibition labels from National Portrait Gallery, London and Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh (frame backing)

each image/sheet: approximately 4 3/4 x 3 1/2 in. (12 x 8.9 cm.)

Private Collection, New York;
Sotheby's, New York, October 5, 1995, lot 344;
acquired from the above sale by Thomas Koerfer, Zurich (B. 1944);
Sotheby's, New York, September 30, 2014, lot 126;
acquired from the above sale by the present owner.
Emmanuelle de l’Ecotais and Alain Sayag (eds.), Man Ray: Photography and its Double, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1998, p. 134 (cropped variant of first image in the sequence).
Marianne Karabelnik (ed.), Stripped Bare: The Body Revealed in Contemporary Art - Works from the Thomas Koerfer Collection, Merrell, London, 2004, p. 27 (these prints).
Philip Prodger, Man Ray | Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism, Merrell, London, 2011, p. 44 (from the negative).
Terrence Pepper, Man Ray: Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London, 2013, pl. 88, pp. 118-119 (these prints).
London, National Portrait Gallery, Man Ray Portraits, February–May 2013, and thereafter to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, June–September 2013.
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Lot Essay

The present lot is a rare, sequenced, photographic portrait of Lee Miller by Man Ray. It was created during the relatively brief but famous period of time that the two artists spent together in Paris as teacher and apprentice, as lovers, and as collaborators.

This photographic masterwork was previously in the collection of the Swiss filmmaker, Thomas Koerfer, and indeed the lighting and movement of the images is cinematic. Across the three images Man Ray tracks Miller’s engagement with the mesh curtain until finally, in the third frame, her body is completely behind it, her features softened and stylized by the fabric which serves as a filter. There’s a notable resemblance between these images and the celebrated film still from Man Ray’s 1923 film Le Retour à la Raison, in which shadows of lines from a drape spread out over the breasts and torso of Kiki de Montparnasse.

In each of the images, the manner in which Miller’s body is modeled by the natural light and positioned, has her appearing as somewhat of a mannequin, referring to one of the most recognized themes of Surrealism. It was Eugene Atget’s images of mannequins seen through the windows of storefronts in which Surrealists found inspiration. Man Ray’s own allusion to the mannequin here creates an ambience simultaneously detached and erotic – a tension investigated by the Surrealists. Parts of Miller’s limbs blend into the darkness in such a way that they seem removed and her torso, disembodied. And yet in her assertive, confrontational stance, it’s impossible to read Miller as a powerless, inanimate form.

Elizabeth “Lee” Miller (1907−1977) was discovered as a teenager by Condé Nast, who purportedly saved her from being hit by a car on the streets of New York City. Soon after this fateful contact, she appeared on the cover of Vogue at the age of only nineteen. From there, she began modeling frequently for photographers including Edward Steichen, George Hoyningen-Huene and Horst P. Horst. In 1929, on the suggestion of Edward Steichen, she wrote to Man Ray and became his assistant. Shortly thereafter, she began pursuing photography herself and the two, famously, became lovers.

Koerfer’s renowned photography collection, of which a significant grouping (not inclusive of the present lot) was auctioned with Christie’s in 2017, has focused on the human body, with an emphasis on sexually charged and Surrealist imagery. In 2017 he said of his collection, ‘I didn’t have a clear idea of what direction the collection could take. But being a film director means that you are very close to actors, to emotions. I think a part of these photographs reflect this closeness to people.’ Koerfer’s highly acclaimed film debut, The Death of a Flea Circus Director (1972), premiered at the 1974 Critics’ Week at the Cannes Film Festival, and was later shown at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. A longtime supporter of the visual arts as well, Koerfer was for many years on the board of the Kunsthalle Zürich and served as president of the foundation committee of the Fotomuseum Winterthur for 12 years.

This work has been exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London for the exhibition Man Ray Portraits, in 2013, and thereafter to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, June–September 2013. The negatives from this series of images are in the collection of the Centre Pompidou, Paris. As of the time of this writing, other prints of these images, in this uncropped format, have not been located.

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