DescriptionMAN RAY (American, 1890-1976)
The River (River Interpretation), 1914
Oil on canvas
8-1/4 x 10-1/4 inches (21.0 x 26.0 cm)
Signed and dated lower left: Man Ray / 1914
PROPERTY FROM THE KING COLLECTION, TEXAS
Daniel Gallery, New York, 1915;
Private collection, Connecticut;
Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York;
Acquired by the present owner from the above, June 2005.
(Possibly) Daniel Gallery, New York, "Exhibition of Drawings and Paintings by Man Ray," November 10-23, 1915, no. 2 (as River Interpretation);
El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, "Modern American Painting 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection," September 8, 2013-January 8, 2014, no. 37.
F. Naumann, Conversation to Modernism: The Early Work of Man Ray, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 2003, pls. 94-95, illustrated via the artist's archival photograph;
"Discovering the American Modern 1907-1936: The King Collection," American Art Review, December 2013, pp. 80-87, 127, illustrated;
P.S. Cable, Modern American Painting 1907-1936: The Maria and Barry King Collection, exhibition catalogue, El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, Texas, 2013, pp. 37-38, no. 37, illustrated.
As co-founder of the Societé-Anonyme with Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray was the sole American artist to claim a prominent role in the development of Dada and Surrealism in the United States. While art historians frequently opine that his greatest contribution was in the field of photography, he originally wished to make a name for himself as a Modernist painter. Producing paintings, collages, sculptures, and even avant-garde films, Man Ray consciously avoided easy classification, refusing to be recognized solely for his efforts in any one medium. Although this desire to resist stereotyping at first frustrated some scholars and critics, it was the artist's dedication to innovation that now defines his artistic legacy. The River (River Interpretation) from 1914 firmly places Man Ray in the echelons of America's pioneering painters of the twentieth century.
Showing a propensity for drawing and painting at an early age, and involving himself in artistic circles throughout his life, Man Ray adopted his pseudonym in 1909. Born Emmanuel Radnitzky, he was raised in Philadelphia by his Russian Jewish parents, who had only recently immigrated to the United States. He worked as an engraver and illustrator after graduating from high school in Brooklyn. From 1910 to 1912, he took life-drawing classes supervised by Robert Henri and George Bellows at the Francisco Ferrer Social Center in Harlem. The following year, he moved to Ridgefield, New Jersey, the site of an informal artists' colony.
A frequent visitor to Alfred Stieglitz's 291 gallery, Man Ray assimilated into his early work aspects of the European Modernist art on view there. In the mid-1910s, he introduced Cubist elements in his abstracted still lifes and landscapes, drawing on the geometric forms, compressed space, and faceted planes of Analytic Cubism. Man Ray encountered his first examples of Analytic Cubist painting at 291, and then later at the famous Armory Show of 1913. He was so taken with what he had seen there that he later told an interviewer that he could not paint for six months. Over the course of the next two years, however, he had thoroughly adopted the Cubist style. It was the box-like, geometric qualities of early Cubism that most strongly appealed to Man Ray. In 1914, he produced several pictures of this type: The Lovers, (Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan), A.D. (fig. 1) (Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Five Figures (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), and the present work, The River (River Interpretation).
That year, Man Ray also experimented with his unique "analytic" Cubist style, in a series of landscapes and still lifes whose forms are intentionally fragmented and set in an indeterminate space. These qualities are readily apparent in The River (River Interpretation), where the waterway referenced in the title is depicted as a series of step-like shapes in the immediate central foreground of the composition. It is likely that this river is the Hackensack River, which ran quietly through the center of Ridgefield, New Jersey, where Man Ray lived at the time he executed the present work. Above this central component and slightly to the right, he has depicted the bow of a large seafaring vessel, which could only have come from the considerably larger body of water that Man Ray crossed every time he went into Manhattan--namely, the Hudson River, where ships of this size were a common sight. At the top of the composition, skyscrapers are painted against a background of blue sky and white clouds. Indeed, rather than portraying a specific scene, The River (River Interpretation) is an amalgam of views garnered from the experience of traveling from one point to another over various inland waterways.
In his 1988 Ph.D. thesis on the artist, Man Ray scholar Francis M. Naumann notes that the present work was originally identified by a thumbnail photograph from Man Ray's inventory, but at that time its location was listed as lost or destroyed. Naumann was able to locate less than a dozen of these 1914 Cubist oils. Some of the surviving works not lost or destroyed became part of Man Ray's estate in France and are now thought to be in the hands of European collectors. It is likely that The River was included in Man Ray's first one-man show at the Daniel Gallery in 1915, where it is listed in the catalogue as River Interpretation.
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