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Christie’s sets record asking price of $5 million for Man Ray’s photo ‘Le Violon d’Ingres’

Artist Man Ray’s iconic surrealist photograph titled ‘Le Violon d’Ingres,’ depicting a nude woman with f-shaped violin markings on her back, is bound for the auction block, with Christie’s setting a record asking price of $5million.

The 1924 masterpiece, which is widely considered to be Man Ray’s most famous work, will be sold to the highest bidder in May, alongside other artworks, photographs, jewelry and posters, which comprised a noteworthy Surrealist collection amassed over the decades by Rosalind Gersten Jacobs and Melvin Jacobs, a wealthy Manhattan couple who both worked in fashion. 

If ‘Le Violon d’Ingres’ fetches its asking price or higher, it will be the most expensive photo ever sold at auction. The current record is held by Andreas Gursky’s Rheine II, which was sold by Christie’s for an eye-popping $4.3million in 2011.

Man Ray’s iconic ‘Le Violon d’Ingres’ photo is headed for auction in May, with Christie’s setting an unprecedented asking price of $5million. It depicts the artist’s lover Kiki de Montparnasse 

Man Ray is pictured in his  Paris apartment in 1970. 'Le Violin d'Ingres' is considered his greatest masterpiece

Man Ray is pictured in his  Paris apartment in 1970. ‘Le Violin d’Ingres’ is considered his greatest masterpiece 

American visual artist Man Ray taught himself photography in the 1920s and produced his most iconic work, Le Violon d’Ingres, in Paris

Man Ray was born in Philadelphia in 1890 and spent his early life in New York, turning down a scholarship to study architecture in order to devote himself to painting.

He initially taught himself photography in order to reproduce his works of art, but in 1920 he began to work as a portrait photographer to fund his artwork. In 1915, while at Ridgefield artist colony in New Jersey, he met the French artist Marcel Duchamp and together they tried to establish New York Dada.

His friendship with Duchamp led to Man Ray’s move to Paris in 1921, where, as a contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements, he revolved in the same circles as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, and created unforgettable photographs of many of his famous contemporaries.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Man Ray left France for the US and took up residence in Hollywood. 

Returning to Paris in 1951 he again made the city his home until his death in 1976.

In 1962, he sold ‘Le Violon d’Ingres’ to Rosalind Gersten Jacobs, a retail executive and fashion buyer for Macy’s, who, along with her husband, chief executive of Saks Fifth Avenue Melvin Jacobs, befriended surrealist artists, among them Marcel Duchamp, René Magritte, Max Ernst, and purchased many of their important works.

The black-and-white image depicts Man Ray’s lover and muse, Kiki de Montparnasse, with her naked back facing the camera, and her head, crowned with a turban, slightly turned to the left. 

As Wall Street Journal first reported, paintings by Man Ray previously have been auctioned off for up to $5.8million, but none of his photographs have ever sold for more than $3.1million. 

Darius Himes, Christie’s International Head of Photographs, explained that ‘Le Violon d’Ingres’ was created using a unique darkroom process.

The title of the photograph is translated as ‘Ingres’ violin,’ and it is a widely used French idiom that means ‘hobby.’ It invokes the name of Jean-August Dominique Ingres, a 19th century artist who wished to be best known for his violin playing, rather than his painting.  

The black-and-white image depicts Man Ray’s lover and muse, Kiki de Montparnasse, with her naked back facing the camera, and her head, crowned with a turban, slightly turned to the left. 

Two f-shaped violin markings are cleverly positioned in the middle of the model’s back, giving her body the appearance of a string instrument. 

Himes said that while the photograph has been reproduced ‘countless times,’ Man Ray held onto the original until 1962, when it ended up in the Jacobs family’s collection.    

‘The reach and influence of the image, at once romantic, mysterious, roguish, and playful, has captured the minds of all for nearly 100 years,’ Himes said of the famed artwork. ‘As a photographic work, it is unprecedented in the marketplace. We are proud to handle it.’ 

Man Ray was born in Philadelphia in 1890 and spent his early life in New York, turning down a scholarship to study architecture in order to devote himself to painting.

He initially taught himself photography in order to reproduce his works of art, but in 1920 he began to work as a portrait photographer to fund his artwork. In 1915, while at Ridgefield artist colony in New Jersey, he met the French artist Marcel Duchamp and together they tried to establish New York Dada.

His friendship with Duchamp led to Man Ray’s move to Paris in 1921, where, as a contributor to the Dada and Surrealist movements, he revolved in the same circles as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, and created unforgettable photographs of many of his famous contemporaries.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Man Ray left France for the US and took up residence in Hollywood. 

Returning to Paris in 1951 he again made the city his home until his death in 1976.

In 1962, he sold ‘Le Violon d’Ingres’ to Rosalind Gersten Jacobs, a retail executive and fashion buyer for Macy’s, who, along with her husband, chief executive of Saks Fifth Avenue Melvin Jacobs, befriended surrealist artists, among them Marcel Duchamp, René Magritte, Max Ernst, and purchased many of their important works.

Retail executive Rosalind Gersten Jacobs (right), pictured with her daughter, Peggy, bought the photo from Man Ray, who was a friend, in 1962 to add to her Surrealist collection

Retail executive Rosalind Gersten Jacobs (right), pictured with her daughter, Peggy, bought the photo from Man Ray, who was a friend, in 1962 to add to her Surrealist collection   

Gersten Jacobs and her husband were friends with many Surrealist and Dada artists. From left, Max Ernst, M. Jean, Rosalind Gersten Jacobs, Juliet Man Ray (kneeling) and her husband Man Ray embraced by Ernst's wife Dorothea Tanning

Gersten Jacobs and her husband were friends with many Surrealist and Dada artists. From left, Max Ernst, M. Jean, Rosalind Gersten Jacobs, Juliet Man Ray (kneeling) and her husband Man Ray embraced by Ernst’s wife Dorothea Tanning

 

According to Christie’s, collection highlights also include Vija Celmins’ Mars, with an estimated asking price of $1.8million, as well as Duchamps’ Feuille de vigne femelle – one of the artist’s ‘erotic objects’ which Gersten Jacobs bought from Man Ray in Paris and took back home to New York. 

Later on at a party in the Jacobs’ apartment, a guest mistook the sculpture for an ashtray. Rosalind called Duchamp to let him know, which amused the artist and he declared the work improved, according to Christie’s. 

The current auction record for a photo is held by Andreas Gursky’s Rheine II, which was sold by Christie's for $4.3million in 2011

The current auction record for a photo is held by Andreas Gursky’s Rheine II, which was sold by Christie’s for $4.3million in 2011

Melvin Jacobs died in 1993, followed by his wife in 2019. The collection then passed on to the couple’s daughter, Peggy Jacobs Bader.

‘The acquisition of nearly every piece has a unique and intimate story behind it,’ she said of her parents’ art treasures. ‘The joyful spirit of my parents’ relationship with the artists is reflected in the works they amassed. In viewing the collection, one gets a visceral sense of my parents’ love of Surrealism, their discerning eye for great art, their playfulness and, at times, their mischievousness.’


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