Man Ray’s Shakespearean Equations: King Lear

King Lear_mathematical model pairing

(left) Man Ray, Shakespearean Equation, King Lear, 1948. Oil on canvas, 18 1/8 x 24 1/8 in. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn, 1972. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015. Photography by Cathy Carver (right) Mathematical Object: Kummer Surface with Eight Real Double Points, c. 1900. Plaster with metal supports, 7 1/2 × 11 × 5 7/8 in. Brill-Schilling Collection. Institut Henri Poincaré, Paris. Photo: Elie Posner

Man Ray placed the painted canvas of King Lear onto a wooden hoop, turning the work into a three-dimensional object and referencing the recurring motif in his work of “squaring the circle.” In rendering this mathematical model on canvas, Man Ray removed the supports integral to the original object (seen in the image above right), leaving the model afloat in an ambiguous space. He commented: “The color had dripped somewhat, it looked like tears, I called the painting King Lear.” This title-inspiring effect—whether truly fortuitous or intentional—echoes a drip technique he exploited in other works.

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