MAN RAY (1890–1976)

Lee Miller, c. 1930
gelatin silver print, mounted on paper
signed and annotated ‘Paris’ in pencil (mount, recto); photographer’s rue Campagne Première stamp (mount, verso)
image/sheet: 9 x 7 in. (22.8 x 17.7 cm.)
mount: 11 5/8 x 8 7/8 in. (29.5 x 22.5 cm.)

Drouot-Estimations, Paris, November 20, 2007, lot 24;
Cheim & Reid, New York, 2007;
Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York;
Michael Shapiro Gallery, Westport;
acquired from the above by the present owner, 2013.
Jane Livingston, Lee Miller: Photographer, The California/International Arts Foundation and Thames and Hudson, New York, 1989, p. 8.
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. 222.
Mason Klein, Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention, The Jewish Museum, New York, 2009, p. 89.
Philip Prodger, Man Ray | Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism, Merrell, London, 2011, p. 97.
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Lot Essay

The rare photograph on offer here is a portrait of Lee Miller by Man Ray that is sensual and intimate, but also hauntingly emblematic of the volatile dynamic between the two artists. As an ethereal image, it is brilliantly exemplary of the Surrealist practice that both artists were deeply involved with during this period. In contrast to many of Man Ray’s portraits of Miller, where the sitter is depicted as stoic and studied from a detached position, this breathtaking image captures Miller in a moment of passion and vulnerability. The portrait on offer here was taken by Man Ray as Miller’s lover, above all else, and epitomizes their complex and dramatic relationship.

Man Ray called the series from which this image comes Anatomies. Fascinatingly, as recounted by Miller herself, Miller rescued the negative for this particular image from the trash, made a print of it herself and claimed it as her own. Man Ray was apparently outraged by this act, slashed the image with a razor and threw scarlet ink on the print to appear as blood. Later, Man Ray incorporated this very image into an oil painting: Le Logis de L’artiste (c. 1931), a work clearly created as expression of his longing for Miller, during a period where she was frequently traveling to England for her own work.

While working together in Paris for the years between 1929 and 1932, Man Ray and Lee Miller enjoyed a rich and prolific period of their lives and artistic careers. And although during this time the two were famously also lovers, it’s evident that Man Ray’s obsession for Miller surpassed her desire for him. Numerous letters from Man Ray to Miller written in 1931 and 1932 reveal desperation. Eventually, it was Miller who left Man Ray, when she moved to New York to shed herself of the identity as an apprentice or muse to Man Ray, and to forge a career and a practice fully her own.

'I wish you too would tell me without reserve evrything [sic] you do, down to the slightest detail, especially what you think would hurt. I never forget the things you say however casual and thoughtless, just as before your departure you hinted that you have hidden some things from me. And in spite of all, I love you beyond all words, and can only think of rejoining you, and everything else forgotten and healed.' - Letter to Lee Miller from Man Ray, 1932

Beyond evidence in written accounts, some of Man Ray’s most emotionally charged works are centered on his obsession with Miller. Soon after their split, Man Ray produced Object of Destruction. When the work was introduced in the Surrealist journal This Quarter, it was published with the following instructions by Man Ray:

‘Cut out the eye from a photograph of one who has been loved but is seen no more. Attach the eye to the pendulum of a metronome and regulate the weight to suit the tempo desired. Keep going to the limit of endurance. With a hammer well-aimed, try to destroy the whole at a single blow.’

Man Ray used an eye of Miller’s eye for the various copies of the work that he created.

Another of Man Ray’s most famous works is also based on his longing for Miller. A l’heure de l’observatoire – les amoureux, painted c. 1931, shows Miller’s red lips floating in the sky above a landscape with an observatory in the background. In Cahiers d’Art, Man Ray wrote about that work, ‘Lips of the sun, you draw me endlessly nearer, and in this instant before awakening, when I cast loose from my body – I am weightless – I meet you in the even light and empty space, and, my only reality, kiss you with all that is left of me: my own lips’ (Cahiers d’Art, 10: 5-6, October 1935, 127, translated by Philip Prodger in Man Ray | Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism, 2011, p. 45).

This important photograph is one of only two known prints of the image known to exist. The other is in the Lee Miller Archive and is unsigned and unmounted.

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