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Man Ray

Category: Artist and sculptor

Man Ray seated by checker board, from
Homage to Man Ray - David Hockney

Man Ray (born Emmanuel Radnitzky, August 27, 1890 – November 18, 1976) was one of the most inventive photographic artists of the twentieth century. His creativity and appetite for innovation and experimentation stayed with him throughout his long and varied international career.

Man Ray (1890–1976) was born Michael (Emmanuel) Radnitzky in Philadelphia, to Jewish parents, and began signing his name as ‘Man Ray’ in 1912. He initially taught himself photography in order to reproduce his own works of art.

In 1913, Man Ray met his first wife, the Belgian poet Adon Lacroix (Donna Lecoeur) (1887-1975), in New York. They married in 1914, separated in 1919, and formally divorced in 1937.

From 1913 to 1916 Man Ray lived and worked at the artists’ colony in Ridgefield, New Jersey, where in 1915 he met the French artist Marcel Duchamp, with whom he tried to establish New York Dada.  In 1920, Man Ray, Katherine Dreier, and Duchamp founded the Société Anonyme, an itinerant collection that was the first museum of modern art in the U.S.


In 1934, surrealist artist Méret Oppenheim, known for her

fur-covered teacup, posed nude for Man Ray in a well-known

series of photographs depicting her standing next to a printing press.

Man Ray’s friendship with Duchamp led to his moving, in July 1921, to live and work in Paris. He soon settled in the Montparnasse quarter.

Shortly after arriving in Paris, he met and fell in love with Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin), an artists' model and celebrated character in Paris bohemian circles. Kiki was Man Ray's companion for most of the 1920s. She became the subject of some of his most famous photographic images and starred in his experimental films, Le Retour à la Raison and L'Étoile de mer.

It was in Paris, as a contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements, that Man Ray was perfectly placed to make defining images of his contemporaries from the avant-garde. Among portraits from the early 1920s are remarkable studies of Jean Cocteau, Peggy Guggenheim and Gertrude Stein. Also included are intimate images of Man Ray’s friends and lovers, among them Kiki de Montparnasse (Alice Prin) and Ady Fidelin. 

Ingres's violin!

For the next 20 years in Montparnasse, Man Ray was a distinguished photographer. Significant members of the art world, such as James Joyce, Bridget Bate Tichenor, and Antonin Artaud, also posed for his camera.

Man Ray was represented in the first Surrealist exhibition with Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Masson, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso at the Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925. The most famous work from this time is perhaps the Violon d'Ingres, a stunning photograph of Kiki de Montparnasse.

Man Ray also directed a number of influential avant-garde short films during the 1920s, known as Cinéma Pur. He directed Le Retour à la Raison (2 mins, 1923); Emak-Bakia (16 mins, 1926); L'Étoile de Mer (15 mins, 1928); and Les Mystères du Château de Dé (27 mins, 1929). Man Ray also assisted Marcel Duchamp with the cinematography of his film Anemic Cinema (1926), and Ray personally manned the camera on Fernand Léger's Ballet Mécanique (1924). In René Clair's film Entr'acte (1924), Man Ray appeared in a brief scene playing chess with Duchamp.

William Seabrook and Lee Miller
photo Man Ray

In 1929, he began a love affair with the model and photographer Lee Miller.  It was Lee Miller, who helped him discover the printing process of ‘solarisation’.

Man Ray's principal method of gaining inspiration was via the Sexual techniques. He was a friend and follower of Maria Naglowski, who in and around the late 1920s and beyond conducted seminars drawing upward of 40 people to hear her ideas on Sex Magic. Attendance at these sessions included notable avant-garde writers and artists such as Julius Evola, William Seabrook, Man Ray himself, and André Breton. These gatherings eventually led to the establishment of the Confrerie de la Flèche d'Or (Brotherhood of the Golden Arrow – Gold and Arrow being symbolic).

His love affair with Lee Miller eventually collapsed with Lee herself leaving him, but he remained friends with her for the rest of his life.  Furthermore his use of sex magick did not cease, although its influence was perhaps less evident.


Man Ray was forced to return from Paris to the United States due to the Second World War. He lived in Los Angeles, California from 1940 to 1951 where he focused his creative energy on painting.

A few days after arriving in Los Angeles, Man Ray met Juliet Browner, a first-generation American of Romanian-Jewish lineage. She was a trained dancer, who studied dance with Martha Graham, and an experienced artists' model. The two married in 1946 in a double wedding with their friends Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. In 1948 Man Ray had a solo exhibition at the Copley Galleries, which brought together a wide array of work and featured his newly painted canvases of the Shakespearean Equations series.


But Man Ray called Montparnasse home and returned there in 1951.

In 1963, he published his autobiography, Self-Portrait, which was republished in 1999.

He died in Paris on November 18, 1976 from a lung infection.

He was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris. Man Ray's epitaph reads "unconcerned, but not indifferent".

When Juliet Browner died in 1991, she was interred in the same tomb. Her epitaph reads "together again".

Juliet organized a trust for his work and donated much of his work to museums.


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