Lot 42
  • 42

Man Ray

250,000 - 350,000 USD
250,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Man Ray
  • Rayograph 
  • gelatin silver print
  • 11 5/8  by 9 3/8  in. (29.5 by 23.7 cm.)
photogram, a unique object, signed and dated in pencil on the image, annotated 'Original Rayograph' and numbered '32' in pencil and with the photographer's '31 bis, Rue Campagne Première' studio and copyright stamps (Manford M6 and M14) on the reverse, 1924


Private collection

By descent to the present owners


Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Man Ray: Exposition de l'Oeuvre Photographique, May - July 1962

Catalogue Note

This early Rayograph was made in 1924, just two years after Man Ray first began creating photograms.  Composed in his darkroom, without the use of a camera, Man Ray’s deliberate placement of a ball bearing, match, and feather element—which would have been placed on, or held just above, the photographic paper during exposure—has resulted here in a supremely graphic composition. 

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.