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Magnolia (Double exposure)
Gelatin silver print
6 7/8 x 9 ins (17.5 x 22.9 cm)
Sotheby's - New York
Sale: NO9640, Photographs, 5 April 2017, Lot: 118
Man Ray’s photographic efforts with combining the seemingly unrelated in the same composition began in earnest with his Rayographs, which he started producing in 1922. To create them, he arranged objects on photographic paper and then exposed the composition to light, creating a series of photographs that transform the banal into meaningful and complex imagery. This experimentation would not be restricted to photograms. In the present print, two of Man Ray’s photographs are printed together to create an altogether new composition. Man Ray’s well-known Magnolia from 1926 depicts a flower in full bloom arranged on a Parisian café chair. The image, tightly cropped to the flower, appears here in reverse tone and was possibly solarized. Man Ray then layered a portrait of a woman, nearly obscured except for her alluring eyes, the whites of which have been heightened by hand for greater effect.
As with so much of Man Ray’s work, the present photograph is a nod to Surrealist themes of chance and double-entendre. Surrealist artists would use superimposed images to create compositions throughout the 1920s and 30s, frequently using the female form to make reference to sexuality and fertility. In Pierre Boucher’s Femme-Fleur of 1937, a full-body portrait of a nude woman is superimposed with an image of a flowering plant.
Man Ray favored Magnolia from the start, and it appeared as a full page reproduction in the French issue of Vogue in April 1927. There titled Portrait de Fleur, the accompanying caption described Man Ray as 'the portraitist of things' and made an analogy between the eroticism of a flower and a woman’s body: 'The pulp appears whiter, as flesh that its splendor made almost immodest.' In 1934, Man Ray included this image in the first survey of his most important photographs: Man Ray Photographs 1920-1934.
At the time of this writing, no other print of this double-exposure has been located. The presence of the Manford M28 and M29 posthumous studio and copyright stamps, as well as The Man Ray Trust inventory number in pencil on the reverse, indicate that the present photograph was in Man Ray's possession until his death.