By descent to the present owners
The most prominent element in this Rayograph is the glowing circular form of a metal ball bearing. The sturdiness of this industrial object – with its uniform repetition and clean curves of the inner and outer bearing race – is juxtaposed with the ethereal quality of the wispy feather placed just below. While seemingly an unconventional prop selected at random, the ball bearing is an object that appears in several of Man Ray’s photographs. At least two other Rayographs display its distinctive circular outline. The first, a Rayograph dated ‘1923,’ featuring a feather, ball bearing, egg, spring, and matches and matchbox, is now in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery (L’Ecotais 90). The second, a similar composition from 1924, with ball bearing, matches, and another unidentified object, is in the collection of the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen (L’Ecotais 105).
From the beginning, Man Ray’s photograms were celebrated by many of his fellow artists. His Rayographs appealed to Dadaists, who loved the quality of chance involved in their production, and to Surrealists, who found them equally compelling for their enigmatic dreamlike quality. The allure and ingenuity of Man Ray’s photograms, however, was appreciated well beyond the art world. In an article entitled Some Photographs Made Without a Camera: Man Ray’s Masterpieces in Velvet Black and Grey in the Early March 1925 issue of Vogue, several Rayographs were illustrated, including the example now in the Glyptotek collection.
The Rayograph offered here remained in Man Ray’s collection until at least 1962, when it was included in his highly important photographs retrospective at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. This exhibition featured a significant survey of Man Ray’s Rayographs (exhibition catalogue, checklist 5-9), which were drawn from the artist’s own collection.
Sotheby’s thanks Man Ray research scholar Steven Manford for his assistance in researching this photograph. The present photograph will be included in his forthcoming Catalogue Raisonné of Man Ray Rayographs.
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