Startlingly beautiful photographs of film stars Catherine Deneuve, Ava Gardner and performer and impersonator Barbette by Man Ray go on show for the first time in Britain today.
The works by one of the most innovative and influential modernists of his generation are part of a major exhibition, Man Ray Portraits, at the National Portrait Gallery in London, claiming to be the first show of its kind to focus entirely on the artist’s photographic portraiture.
The smoky sepia and surreal vibrancy of the photographs are recognisable the world over. But the new exhibition focuses not just on his ubiquitous portraits of his celebrated contemporaries - his most famous are of course Le Violon d’Ingres and Lee Miller- , but also on more personal and intimate snaps of his closest confidantes, friends and lovers. The 150 vintage prints taken between 1916 and 1968 are drawn from private collections and major museums the majority of the works have not previously been exhibited in the UK.
The list of portraits reads like a Who’s Who of cultural and bohemian influences of the day: Marcel Duchamp, Berenice Abbott, Andre Breton, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, James Joyce, Erik Satie, Henri Matisse, Barbette, Igor Stravinsky, Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dali, Le Corbusier, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, Coco Chanel and Wallis Simpson…
Philadelphia-born Man Ray (1890–1976) spent his early life in New York, turning down a scholarship to study architecture in order to devote himself to painting. He initially taught himself photography in order to reproduce his works of art but in 1920 he began to work as a portrait photographer to fund his artwork.
In 1915, whilst at Ridgefield artist colony in New Jersey, he met the French artist Marcel Duchamp and together they tried to establish New York Dada. His friendship with Duchamp led to Man Ray’s move to Paris in 1921, where, as a contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements, he was perfectly placed to make defining images of his contemporaries from the avant-garde.
In this period he was instrumental in developing and producing a type of photogram which he called ‘Rayographs’, and is credited in rediscovering and developing, alongside his lover and collaborator Lee Miller, the process of solarisation. This can be seen in the exhibition in the portraits of Elsa Schiaparelli, Irene Zurkinden, Lee Miller, Suzy Solidor and his own Self-Portrait with Camera.
Following the outbreak of World War II, Man Ray left France for the USA and took up residence in Hollywood. While officially devoting himself once more to painting, new research has revealed that Man Ray made a number of significant photographic portraits during his Hollywood years, and several are shown for the first time in this exhibition.
Other film star subjects included Ruth Ford, Paulette Goddard, Tilly Losch and Dolores del Rio. Returning to Paris in 1951 he again made the city his home until his death in 1976. His portraits from the 1950s include experiments with colour photography, such as his portraits of Juliette Greco and Yves Montand. The exhibition closes with his portrait of film star Catherine Deneuve from 1968.