Mary Stothart-Wescher, Santa Monica (sale: Christie's, New York, May 19, 1978, lot 29)
Galerie Tarica, Paris (acquired at the above sale)
Aquired from the above by the present owners
New York, The Daniel Gallery, Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Man Ray, 1916-17, no. 3 (as Promenade)
London, New Burlington Galleries, The International Surrealist Exhibition, 1936, no. 308
Possibly Paris, Jeu de Paume, Origines et développement de l'art international indépendant, 1937
London, Institute of Contemporary Arts, An Exhibition, Retrospective and Prospective of the works of Man Ray, 1959, no. 11
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Man Ray, 1966, no. 19 (incorrectly dated as 1915 and correctly dated to 1916 in the Addenda and Errata)
New York, The New York Cultural Center, Man Ray, Inventor / Painter / Poet, 1974-75, no. 16 (incorrectly dated as 1915)
London, The Institute of Contemporary Arts, Man Ray, 1975, no. 14 (incorrectly dated as 1915)
Washington, D.C., National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution; Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art; Houston, The Menil Collection; Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Perpetual Motif, The Art of Man Ray, 1988-90, fig. 50, p. 65, illustrated in color (incorrectly dated as 1915), p. 122, illustrated (in photograph)
Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau and London, Royal Academy of Arts, American Art in the 20th Century, Painting and Sculpture, 1913-1993, 1993, no. 5, illustrated in color
London, Serpentine Gallery, Man Ray, 1995, no number, illustrated
Montclair, Montclair Art Museum; Athens (GA), Georgia Museum of Art; Chicago, Terra Museum of American Art, Conversion to Modernism: The Early Work of Man Ray, 2003, no. 153, p. 144, illustrated in color
London, Tate Modern and Barcelona, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catlunya, Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia, 2008, fig. 13, p. 20, illustrated in color
New York, The Jewish Museum, Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention, 2009-10, fig. 48, p. 44, illustrated in color
Lugano, Museo d’Arte Lugano, Man Ray, 2011, p. 51, illustrated in color
Paul Wescher, “Man Ray as Painter,” Magazine of Art, January 1953, pp. 33-34
Herbert Read (ed.), Surrealism, New York, 1971, fig. 84, following p. 208, illustrated
Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray, The Rigour of Imagination, London, 1977, pp. 33, 37, 75, discussed
Exhibition catalogue: Man Ray Photographe, Paris, 1981, introduction by Jean-Hubert Martin, fig. 255, p. 202, illustrated (in photograph of the artist in his Campagne Première studio)
Roland Penrose, Scrap Book, 1900-1981, London, 1981, fig. 164, p. 67, illustrated (in photograph of the London 1936 exhibition)
Jean-Hubert Martin, Brigitte Hermann, Rosalind Krauss, Objets de mon affection, Man Ray, Sculpture et Objets, Catalogue Raisonné, Paris, 1983, pp. 170-71, illustrated (in photograph of the Campagne Première studio)
Man Ray, Selbstporträt / Eine Illustrierte Autobiographie, Munich, 1983, p. 143, illustrated (in photograph)
Man Ray, Self Portrait, Boston, 1988, p. 121, partially illustrated (in photograph)
Promenade was first shown at The Forum Exhibition of American Painters, held in March 1916 at the Anderson Galleries in New York. The Forum Exhibition included works by sixteen prominent American painters, including Thomas Hart Benton, Oscar Bluemner, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Stanton MacDonald-Wright, Morgan Russell and Charles Sheeler who would go on to make significant contributions to the history of modern art in America. For the catalogue of this now celebrated show (after the Armory Show of 1913, the first major exhibition to bring American Art to forefront of the avant-garde), Man Ray prepared a statement that outlines his objectives as a painter, a declaration that accurately encapsulates his thinking at the time when Promenade was made. “The creative force and the expressiveness of painting reside materially in the color and texture of pigment,” he wrote, “in the possibilities of form invention and organization, and in the flat plane on which these elements are brought to play.” Man Ray essentially sets forth the argument that, for the concerns of a painter, the plastic elements of a composition—color, form, line, etc.—should be considered equal to if not greater than the subject. “Working on a single plane as the instantaneously visualizing factor, he [the painter] realizes his mind motives and physical sensations in a permanent and universal language of color, texture and form organization. He uncovers the pure plane of expression that has so long been hidden by the glazings of nature imitation, anecdote and the other popular subjects.”
The Forum Exhibition was organized by Willard Huntington Wright, brother of the artist Stanton MacDonald Wright and, arguably, the most intelligent and informed critic writing about the arts at this time. Upon the conclusion of the show, Wright wrote a long review, wherein he praised Man Ray for the rapid development of his work. “From out [of] the work of student days,” Wright noted, “[Man Ray] has come to guide his own star.” He compared the artist’s work to that of Picasso, feeling that, although the famous Spaniard had left his impression on the young American, the result in Man Ray’s work was “of a totally different mental attitude.” This difference, he maintained, was due to the fact that Picasso had always been “a slave of objectivity… while [Man ] Ray’s desire to create was inspired less by nature than by thought.”
This seems to have been a remarkably informed observation, for Man Ray was indeed placing a great deal of thought into what he painted, inspired perhaps, by his meeting with Marcel Duchamp the previous fall. Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase had been the sensation of the Armory Show in 1913. The scandal that erupted around Duchamp’s painting came from its title, which Duchamp inscribed directly on the canvas surface (nudes could lie down, as they had in Classical paintings for centuries, but they could not move, for that was too provocative a notion for a conservative American public to contemplate). It might have been Duchamp’s example that inspired Man Ray to inscribe the title of his painting—PROMENADE—in prominent block letters at the lower-left corner of his composition, in approximately the same position as where it appeared in Duchamp’s painting. Just as Duchamp’s Nude rendered his model in movement, if Man Ray’s title can be taken literally, he, too, intended his figures to be animated, caught during the course of a walk or promenade. A suggestion of movement is provided by the central figure, whose limbs, despite their pronounced degree of stylization, give the appearance of extension and retraction, as if to provide the suggestion of a casual forward advance.
Upon close examination of the walking figures in Promenade, the individual forms by which they are composed appear to visually overlap, a technique that Man Ray may have derived from his years of working for a map-and-atlas publisher in New York, where translucent gels were used to indicate changes in color. He may also have been influenced by his father’s profession as a tailor, for the family home in Brooklyn, New York, was filled with fabric samples and patterns strewn about the floor of the apartment where he grew up. The technique of translucency and overlap was the foundation of many of the artist’s paintings in the New York, allowing Man Ray to emphasize the overall flatness of his compositions, a concern that came out of a remarkably early formalist program that he was in the process of developing during these years. In a pamphlet he published in 1916, A Primer in the New Art of Two Dimensions, Man Ray outlined a theory where all the arts—music, literature, dance, architecture, sculpture, and painting—could find a common vehicle of expression on a flat, planar surface. In Promenade, Man Ray seized every opportunity to emphasize the flat surface of his picture plane, a remarkably prescient concern for formalist structure and order that artists and critics would not fully appreciate for some decades.
Throughout his life, Man Ray considered Promenade to be one of his most successful artistic compositions, for he seized the opportunity to replicate it on a number of occasions, particularly after he moved to Hollywood in 1940. Not only was the painting preceded by a small gouache study from 1915, but it was followed by three additional versions, painted in 1941 (Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven), 1948 and 1959.
Sotheby's would like to thank Andrew Strauss & Francis M. Naumann, who provided the cataloguing and wrote the entry for the present work.
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