Man Ray Portraits at the NPG


Man Ray, Lee Miller, 1930
Lee Miller Archives © Man Ray Trust

I caught the Man Ray Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery last week, and wow, stunning is the only word I can describe it. This is quite a small exhibition but what was displayed was some of his most known portraits of Paris avant-garde artists of the 1930s, Hollywood actors and of course his muse, lover and student Lee Miller. It was Man Ray and Miller that gave the process of solarisation it’s artistic expression, (apparently, if you watch the video,

it was a rat that caused it). His studio portraits are not as dramatic or polished as as say Karsh or Klein’s but the surrealistic tendencies show through in some. You will see portraits of  Marcel Duchamp, Catherine Deneuve, Picasso, Kiki,


Berenice Abbott, Matisse, Virginia Woolf, Henry Miller, several self portraits of himself, amongst many others, including Blanche et Noire study of Kiki (below)


Man ray portraits dali

Salvador Dali, 1929


Le Violon d’Ingres, 1924

Man Ray in some respects have been more well known for his photogram images which we are all familiar with and have at some stage in our photographic development, have experimented or copied during our dakroom days, so seeing his signature portraits, like these, including Lee Miller’s studies is so satisfying up close in real prints. Sadly his Glass Tears photograph isn’t on show, as are some of his Surreal and Dada favourites. As a portrait exhibition purely, this is not to be missed. The exhibition set out portraits from his early New York stint, and then when he moved to Paris in the early 1920s, through to his studies with Miller and Kiki, and other Hollywood artists.




Most of the portraits are printed to 11″ x 14″  or smaller, matted and framed in black wooden frames, and is starkly in contrast to modern day prints on aluminium or some fancy medium. This is studio and experimental portrait at it’s simplest form, true to the period of the 2o and 30s. There are some stunning miniature colour prints of Hollywood stars also, his later work.

Seeing one of the most respected and studied masters of photography in a great setting will be a treat. Runs till 27th May, National Portrait Gallery, London.

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