Lot 5
  • 5

Man Ray

250,000 - 350,000 USD
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  • Man Ray
  • Rayograph with Hand, Lens, and Egg
  • Unique gelatin silver print photogram
a unique object, signed and dated in pencil on the image, numbered '32' in pencil on the reverse, framed, Buhl Collection, Guggenheim Museum exhibition, and PaceWildensteinMacGill labels on the reverse, 1922


The photographer to Arnold Crane, probably late 1960s

Private Collection

Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, 1998


Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Exhibition L'Oeuvre Photographique de Man Ray, May - July 1962

Milwaukee Art Center, Man Ray, February - March 1973

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art,  Man Ray: Photographs and Rayographs from the Collection of Arnold H. Crane, July - September 1973

Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Man Ray: A Comprehensive Survey of Man Ray's Varied and Influential Achievements in Photography Drawn from the Arnold H. Crane Collection, June - August, 1975

New York, Guggenheim Museum, Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection, June - September 2004, and 4 other international venues through 2007 (see Appendix 1)

Palm Beach Photographic Centre, In Good Hands: Selected Works from the Buhl Collection, March 2011

Middletown, Delaware, Warner Gallery at St. Andrew's School, In Good Hands: Selected Works from the Buhl Collection, October - November 2011


This unique object:

Jennifer Blessing, Speaking with Hands: Photographs from The Buhl Collection (Guggenheim Foundation, 2004), pp. 97 and 241

Broom, March 1923, Vol. 4, No. 4

Offset Buch und Werbekunst, 1926, No. 7, p. 388

ReD, Oct. 1927, No. 1, p. 23

László Moholy-Nagy, Painting Photography Film (Cambridge, MIT Press reprint of the 1925 original edition, 1987), p. 77

Photo Graphics: Photographs from the Collection of Arnold H. Crane (Milwaukee Art Center, 1973)

Emmanuelle de l'Ecotais, Man Ray: Rayographies (Paris, 2002), no. 67 (reproduced from Broom)


This Rayograph is on heavy double-weight paper with a matte-surface. The blacks have a rich, velvety look to them, and these transition beautifully into the gray and white areas of the print. The print is essentially in excellent condition. There is very minor chipping of the emulsion visible on the bottom edge of the print, but this is inconsequential. There is faint age-appropriate silvering visible on the print's peripheries, most notably on the bottom right edge. On the reverse, faint glue remains on the periphery indicate that this print was at one time affixed to a mount. The remains of more recent paper-tape hinges are present on the bottom edge.
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.

Catalogue Note

This Rayograph was made in 1922, the year that Man Ray first began his work with the photogram technique.  Among a number of Rayographs produced in that seminal first year, the present object is distinguished by an outstanding publication and exhibition history.  It was widely reproduced in a number of important avant-garde publications in the 1920s, among them the March 1923 issue of the groundbreaking ‘little magazine’ Broom, published in New York; the Bauhaus publication Offset und Werbekunst in 1926; and, in 1927, the forward-looking Czech arts journal ReD.  Moholy-Nagy chose this Rayograph for reproduction in his revolutionary 1925 volume, Malerie, Fotografie, Film, under the heading ‘Camera-less photograph: New use of the material transforms the everyday object into something mysterious.’

As Moholy-Nagy’s caption suggests, Man Ray’s work with the photogram process had a transformative effect upon his chosen subject matter.  The photogram had been one of the earliest applications for the young art of photography in the 19th century.  Talbot’s photogram of lace and Anna Atkins’s of pressed plants are early examples of placing an object onto photo-sensitive paper to produce a record of its shapes and details.  In the early 20th century, the process was turned to more expressionistic ends by photographers such as Man Ray, Christian Schad, Moholy-Nagy (Lot 20), August Sander (Lot 19), and others.  In the present image, the hand, egg, and lens elements—which would have been placed on, or held just above, the photographic paper during exposure in the darkroom—transcend their literal forms, achieving a degree of enigmatic abstraction that appealed to anarchic Dadaists, dream-obsessed Surrealists, and adherents of Moholy-Nagy’s more practical approach to Modernism.  The originality of Man Ray’s work with the photogram technique was also celebrated beyond the art world: the November 1922 issue of Vanity Fair featured an article on Man Ray’s Rayographs entitled A New Method of Realizing the Artistic Possibilities of Photography.     

The Rayograph offered here also has a significant exhibition history: Man Ray included it in his own 1962 retrospective exhibition at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.  Shortly thereafter, it was purchased by the pioneering photography collector Arnold Crane, who featured it in at least three exhibitions of Man Ray’s work in the 1970s, including ones at the Milwaukee Art Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.  Finally, it has been shown in three exhibitions devoted to Henry Buhl’s Collection. 

Sotheby’s wishes to thank Man Ray authority Steven Manford for his assistance in researching this photograph.