Man Ray - ULTIMATE Evening & Photographs Day Sales London Thursday, May 17, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Collection of Juliet Man Ray, Paris, 1980s
    Private Collection, Switzerland
    Yann Le Mouel, 6 May 2009, lot 32
    Serge Plantereux, Paris

  • Literature

    Man Ray, Milan: Skira, 2001, p. 203
    S. Manford, Behind the Photo: 42 Man Ray Stamps, Paris: Carnet de Rhinocéros jr, 2008, n.p. (stamp)

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘I would photograph an idea than an object, and a dream rather than an idea.’

    Man Ray

    Starting in the 1920s and continuing into the 1930s, Man Ray increasingly focused on organic forms in his photography. Studies of trees, fruit, rocks and flowers – like his famed solarised Calla Lilies, 1930 – are all examples of these explorations, as is the study of walnuts offered here. Many of these are featured in the opening passage of his first monograph Photographs by Man Ray 1920 Paris 1934, including a variant still life that pairs a walnut with Man Ray’s engraved cigarette lighter.

    In addition to exemplifying Man Ray’s investigation of natural forms, this masterful still life stands as a premier example of his use of the photographic technique of solarisation. Also known as the Sabattier effect, solarisation is a phenomenon in which the tones of an image are reversed when light is introduced during the development process. In the late 1920s Man Ray began utilising this technique in his nudes, portraits, and still-life photographs to create images that were representational yet divorced from reality. In Man Ray’s hands, solarisation became an ideal tool with which to create surreal photographs.

    Other photographers – such as Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and other members of the f.64 group in America, and Albert Renger-Patzsch in Germany – also trained their cameras on organic forms during this same period. While these photographers strove to portray their subjects in clarion detail, Man Ray pursued similar subject matter in the service of a more complex agenda. He was a master at unlocking the dreamlike and uncanny aspects of everyday objects to create a heightened artistic experience. The walnuts and their shells, with their curves, undulations, and corresponding positive and negative shapes, were ideal surrealist subject matter.

    As of this writing, we are aware of three other walnut images created around the same time as the work on offer here. Aside from the aforementioned study reproduced in Photographs by Man Ray 1920 Paris 1934, two other variants have appeared at auction, both of which focus solely on the walnuts. In the photograph offered here, Man Ray incorporates a glass vase to create a dynamic and dense visual landscape. His deft use of solarisation accentuates the contours of the nuts and creates a subtle and enigmatic reversal of tones, heightening the dreamlike quality of the composition and placing it squarely in the realm of surrealism.


Untitled (Solarised walnuts)

Solarised gelatin silver print.
29 x 23 cm (11 3/8 x 9 in.)
'Photograph Man Ray' [Manford M25] credit stamp on the verso.

£30,000 - 50,000 

Sold for £35,000

Contact Specialist
Genevieve Janvrin
Co-Head of Photographs, Europe
+33 1 53 71 77 87

Yuka Yamaji
Co-Head of Photographs, Europe
+44 20 7318 4098

ULTIMATE Evening & Photographs Day Sales

London Auction 18 May 2018