Lot 184
  • 184

Man Ray

40,000 - 60,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Man Ray
  • Chess set (1962)
  • inscribed Man Ray and numbered III/V (on white king); chess board perimeter inlaid with the artist's poem in French specially composed by Man Ray in 1962 for this edition and inlaid with his facsimile handwriting:
    le Roi est à moi
    la Reine est la Tienne
    la Tour Fait un four
    le Fou est comme vous 
    le Cavalier déraille 
    le Pion fait l'espion 
    comme toute canaille 
    Fait de toutes pièces 
    Man Ray - 1962
  • Chess set comprising thirty-two French silver chess pieces presented on an enamel and gilt-metal inlay chess board, mounted on a wooden table top board with storage drawers for chess pieces.


Private Collection, Sweden (acquired circa 1970)
Thence by descent to the present owner


Man Ray (exhibition catalogue), Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris & The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, 1972, no. 147, illustration of another example from the edition p. 73
Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray, The Rigour of Imagination, London, 1977, no. 327, illustration of another example from the edition p. 217
Jean-Hubert Martin, Rosalind Krauss & Brigitte Hermann, Man Ray; Objets de mon affection, Sculptures et Objets, Catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1983, illustration of another example from the edition p. 161


Chess set with 32 pieces with fully functioning lids. There are some surface scratches in places to the board and table inherent to age and handling. There is some faint surface wear and some nicks to some of the chess pieces. Overall this work is in very good condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Though, at his own admission, not the most skilled of players, referring to himself once as a "wood pusher", Man Ray was long enchanted by the game of chess, which proved to be both inspirational as well as a pastime: a game he so often played with his friend Marcel Duchamp but which, more importantly, was frequently incorporated as motif and subject into his artistic output. Man Ray created his first chess set in 1920 in New York and continued to develop and evolve his designs over the ensuing fifty years with extraordinary verve and imagination. Roland Penrose observed, ‘for Duchamp, the interest [of the game] lay in ingenious solutions to the end-game; Man Ray used even greater ingenuity in designing chess-sets’ (Roland Penrose, Man Ray, London, 1975, p. 173).

Chessmen are representations of entities or characters, essentially composed of geometric forms and Man Ray was at liberty to redesign and modify their forms from classical chessmen. When placed on the checkered board, their stage or battleground, and set into play, they are forced into a dialogue with one another, suggestive of fortuitous encounters, taking on new roles, pre-determined by the rules, permission and limitations of the game. A consuming investigation of the animate and the inanimate is set into motion and Man Ray breathes further life into these human representations.

The present work, a fully-fashioned chess set complete with its playing board and storage compartments for the chessman, was produced in an edition of fifty examples plus artist's proofs in 1962. Chess sets from this edition are the most elaborate of all Man Ray's chess sets since he designed it to be displayed and played - the last comparable from the edition was sold at Sotheby’s, London, in 1999.

Man Ray chess sets, manipulated and nurtured over the course of his career, reflect Man Ray’s ‘dazzling multiplicity of talents’ (Merry Foresta et al, Perpetual motif: The Art of Man Ray, 1988, Washington, D.C.. p. 9). Chess Set (1962) illustrates Man Ray’s extraordinary dexterity in his multi-disciplinary approach and his desire to innovate and accomplish – much like the subterfuge of a game of chess.