Man Ray (American, Philadelphia 1890 - 1976 Paris)
Bird from Nowhere (Oiseau de nullepart), 1934
Signed bottom right, in grey pencil: Man Ray 1934 1
Oil on canvas (mounted on aluminum plate)
15 1/8 x 18 1/8 in. (38.4 x 46 cm)
Gift of Katharine Kuh, 1963
Although best known for his experimental photographs, Man Ray also created both abstract and figurative paintings. In Bird from Nowhere, the craggy shape and encrusted surface of a strange bird fills much of the picture field, its enormous beak about to capture some prey.
In the mid to late 1930s, Man Ray's financial success in fashion photography and portraiture gave him the time and leisure to produce a large number of paintings. In 1963 the artist described this phase of his career:2
"By the middle of the Thirties I had re-established myself as a photographer, moving about more in social circles and being solicited by advertising agencies and fashion Magazines. It was more irregular work, but better paying than portraits, leaving me more time for painting. I found a large studio with an apartment, which I fixed up again according to my ideas. Here I could live and work. I gave up the other places, reducing my double life into a single one, still remaining single as far as amorous adventures were concerned. The studio was full of photographic paraphernalia, to impress my clients, but the walls were covered with paintings and a couple of easels stood among the lights. None except the Surrealists and some friends noticed the paintings. I was casual with my more commercial clients, getting all I could out of them."
Bird from Nowhere was painted during this period.
The pigment-encrusted surface and jagged brushwork patterns of Bird from Nowhere are common to many of Man Ray's paintings, such as Modern Mythology, 1955, or Vegetal Landscape, 1958.3 Thematically and formally, however, the work is somewhat difficult to place within the artist's oeuvre. Most of the artist's paintings from this period show precisely drawn, ordinary objects in incongruous settings or relationships, as in The Fortune of 1938,4 in which a billiards table is slickly rendered in one-point perspective, floating in mid air among clouds and mountains; or the well-known Oberservation Time - The Lovers of 1932-34,5, in which an enormous pair of sharply defined, red, and presumbably female, lips expand across an evening sky and hover above a landscape with an observatory.
Man Ray offered Bird from Nowhere as a gift to his longtime friend and sometime collaborator Marcel Duchamp.6
Born Emmanuel Radnizky, the artist adopted the pseudonym Man Ray as early as 1910. He attended drawing classes given by Robert Henri and George Bellows in New York in the 1910-15, but was already involved with more avant-garde activities by that time. He was a frequent visitor to Alfred Stieglitz's influential 291 Gallery, and in 1915 began a lifelong friendship with Marcel Duchamp. With Duchamp and Francis Picabia, Man Ray founded the New York Dada movement; and with Duchamp and patron Katherine Dreier, was a founder-member of the Société Anonyme, one of the first organizations to promote and collect avant-garde art in this country. In 1921 Man Ray collaborated with Duchamp on the periodical New York Dada; later that year he moved to Paris, where he became an influential figure in the international circle of Dada and Surrealist artists and writers.
Although he was also active as a painter, draftsman, and sculptor, Man Ray's greatest impact on twentieth-century art was as a photographer. In 1922 he began creating "rayographs," a personal variant of the photogram, in which images were produced by placing objects directly on photosensitive paper; rayographs transformed ordinary objects into mysterious, allusive entities. From the late 1920s Man Ray also experimented with solarized photographic images, and made important contributions to the avant-garde film genre. Commercial photography earned the artist a steady source of income, both portraits and fashion photography for magazines such as Harper's Bazaar and Vogue.
Man Ray left Paris in 1940 to escape the Nazi occupation. He settled in Hollywood, California, but returned to Paris in 1951, where he resided for the remainder of his life.
M. E. Wieseman
Foresta, Merry, et al. Perpetual Motif: The Art of Man Ray. Exh. cat., National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C., and New York, 1988.
Foresta, Merry. In The Dictionary of Art. Vol. 20. Edited by Jane Turner. London and New York, pp. 287-88.
Gift from the artist to Marcel Duchamp and Mary Reynolds, Paris
Collection Mrs. Katharine Kuh, New York (bis 1957-58), by whom given in 1963
New York, The Archives of American Art, New York Regional Center Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1994-95. Katharine Kuh: Interpreting the New. 13 December - 13 March (also shown at the Gibson Gallery, State University of New York, Potsdam). Cat. p. 22.
Stechow, Wolfgang. European and American Paintings and Sculptures in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1967, p. 125, fig.
Katharine Kuh: Interpreting the New. Exh. cat., The Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, New York Regional Center Gallery, New York, 1994-95, p. 22.
The oil paint (which may have been mixed with watercolor) is thick and impasted throughout. There are scattered old losses, particularly in the green pigment, which have not been inpainted or restored. Because of a history of instability and cleavage between paint layers, the painting was lined onto a linen fabric and mounted on an aluminum plate in 1964. The wax/resin adhesive used in the lining process may have caused the pigments to darken slightly. The surface of the painting is unvarnished.
1. Inscribed on the top member of the original stretcher, in graphite, left: PPL2130; Man Ray, Paris Ve / 8, rue du Val-de-Croce/Teleph. Danton 92-95; on the right member of the original stretcher is a circular stamp: DOUANES/EXPOSITIONS/PARIS.
2. Man Ray, Self-Portrait (Boston, 1963), pp. 292-93; cited in Jean-Hubert Marlin, Man Ray: Photographs (London, 1982), p. 184
3. Oil on canvas, 146.1 x 114.3 cm, collection Mr. and Mrs. Man Ray, Paris, reproduced in Jules Langsner, ed., Man Ray (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1966); and oil on cardboard, 13 x 17.5 cm, collection Vera and Arturo Schwarz, Milan, reproduced in Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray (New York, 1977), p. 115, pl. 201.
4. Oil on canvas, 58.4 x 71.1 cm, private collection; reproduced in Jules Langsner, ed., Man Ray (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1966), p. 86.
5. Oil on canvas, 100 x 250.2 cm, private collection; reproduced in Jules Langsner, ed., Man Ray (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1966), frontispiece.
6. Note by Katharine Kuh, October 1962, in the museum files.