Called one of the twentieth-century’s top twenty-five most influential artists, Man Ray was born Emmanuel Radnitzky in Philadelphia in 1890. Generally described as a modernist artist, he is also associated with the Dada and Surrealist movements. He contributed art in various genres and, while he favored painting, his avant-garde photography is particularly revered. His repertoire is additionally comprised of film, collage, and assemblage examples of art.
The oldest son of Russian Jewish immigrants, Man Ray also had a brother and two sisters. After moving to Brooklyn, New York in 1897 the family eventually changed their surname to Ray to avoid discrimination within the anti-Semitic atmosphere of the times. At this time the artist, who had been called Manny, changed his first name to Man and henceforth went by the combined name Man Ray. His father’s occupation as a garment factory worker and owner of a side tailoring business had profound influence on the artist’s work. Many items related to sewing such as needles, fabric swatches, and sewing machines figure into his art at every stage.
During his early education Man Ray showed considerable artistic talent. He was trained in drafting and other artistic techniques. He also spent considerable time visiting museums. While working out of his parents home early on, Man Ray worked as a commercial artist while painting out of his own studio. He also worked for various companies in Manhattan doing technical illustration. While the artist’s earliest works demonstrate a nineteenth-century influence, he was greatly attracted to the avant-garde style.
After 1913 his work began to display some elements of cubism and was further influenced by his friendship with the French artist Marcel Duchamp. He also met his first wife Adon Lacroix whom he married the following year; however, they separated in 1919 and divorced in 1937. In 1915 he had his first art show dedicated to his work. In 1918 he began to produce the first examples of his important photography. Along with Duchamp and Katherine Dreier, Man Ray helped found the country’s first museum of modern art known as Societe Anonyme. He and Duchamp also wrote the singular issue of New York Dada in 1920. The following year he moved to Paris settling in the artist-friendly area of Montparnasse.
While in Paris he became notably involved with model Alice Prin and photographer Lee Miller. During this period his photography became well known for its photographs of period artists like James Joyce, Antonin Artaud, and Gertrude Stein. His work was additionally showcased in the first Surrealist exhibition in Paris in 1925 which also featured work from Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro. WWII forced him to leave Paris and he lived in Los Angeles from 1940 to 1951 during which time he married the model and dancer Juliet Browner. He spent the remainder of his life living in Paris and died there in 1976. Aside from his famed photographs, some of his best-known paintings include The Misunderstood (1938) and A Night at Saint Jean-de-Luz (1929).