Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy - Ridgefield

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Image of Ridgefield

Man Ray , (Aug 27, 1890–Nov 18, 1976)


25 in. x 30 in. (63.5 cm x 76.2 cm)

Medium and Support: Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Museum purchase
Accession Number: 1947.20
Current Location: On view : 209


On the two years he spent living and painting in Ridgefield, New Jersey (1913-15) , Man Ray wrote, "My mind was in turmoil, the turmoil of a seed that has been planted in fertile ground, ready to break through.”1 A few months prior to crossing the Hudson River from Manhattan to this former artists' colony, he had visited the Armory Show, a monumental display of European and American modernism that succeeded in jolting the complacent community of New York artists and collectors fixed on a tradition of figurative art. He was so overpowered by the event that he later averred, "I did nothing for six months. It took me that time to digest what I had seen."2

Man Ray's first introduction to the precepts of modernist painting actually came by way of Alfred Stieglitz's 291 Gallery in New York, which he began frequenting as early as 1910. There he acquired a fragmented, idiosyncratic take on some of the latest vanguard developments in contemporary art. From Stieglitz's exhibitions of Cézanne's and Rodin's watercolors, and work by Brancusi and Picasso, he gleaned a partial understanding of an abstract, reductivist aesthetic that involved flattening the picture plane into elemental shapes and parts. Although it took seeing the Armory Show, with its expansive sweep of modernism, to round out his view of the implications of these formalist ideas, Man Ray was predisposed toward abstract art almost from the outset of his career.

Ridgefield is a synthetic work, one that is constructed from multiple stylistic sources. While the imprint of Cézanne is readable in the overall patterning of forms as flat, geometric constituents, the primary influence here is Samuel Halpert,3 an American artist who had spent time in Paris and with whom Man Ray first shared a cabin in Ridgefield. The crisp, black outline that defines and structures the hills in this landscape is a convention that Ray appropriated from Halpert and Halpert's study of Fauve painting. During this formative period, Ray incorporated a number of preexisting stylistic inventions in his work, a practice that he felt was his artistic prerogative: "I have never worried about influences—there had been so many— every new painter whom I discovered was a source of inspiration and emulation. If there had been no predecessors, I might not have continued painting. Sufficient that I chose my influences—my masters.”4

Ridgefield is part of series of plein air landscapes. Thereafter, as subject matter ceased to play any meaningful, narrative role in his painting, Man Ray limited his production to the studio and pursued only the conceptual, theoretical dimensions of these early landscapes. As a result, the space of his painting became increasingly planar. Within this finite area of investigation, he mined the prospects of his future work:

Working on a single plane as the instantaneously visualizing factor, he [the artist] realizes his mind motives and physical sensations in a permanent and universal language of color, texture and, form organization. He uncovers the pure plane of expression that has so long been hidden by the glazings of nature imitation, and anecdote, and other popular subject.5

Once unconstrained by the trappings of a subject, Man Ray was able to move by 1922 "beyond the sticky medium of paint and work directly with light itself,”6 as he put it, devising in his Rayographs what is perhaps his signature achievement.

Debra Bricker Balken, Addison Gallery of American Art: 65 Years, A Selective Catalogue (Andover, Massachusetts: Addison Gallery of American Art, 1996), pp. 426

1. Man Ray, Self Portrait (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1963), p. 44.

2. Quoted in C. Lewis Hind, "Wanted, A Name," Christian Science Monitor (November-December 1919). Noted in Francis Naumann, "Man Ray 1908-1921: From an Art in Two Dimensions to the Higher Dimension of Ideas," in Merry Foresta et al., Perpetual Motif: The Art of Man Ray (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art, 1988), p. 55.

3. This observation comes from Naumann, p. 56.

4. May Ray, Self Portrait, p. 33.

5. Man Ray, "Statement," in The Forum Exhibition of Modern American Painters (New York: Anderson Galleries, March 1916). Reprinted in Art in Theory, 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1992), p. 274.

6. Man Ray to Ferdinand Howald, 5 April 1992. Quoted in Foresta et al., p. 116.

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