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.

From The Curator: Man Ray–Human Equations

Curator Wendy Grossman takes you through the galleries of Man Ray–Human Equations, explaining how the exhibition charts a path “from object to image, from photography to painting, from Surrealist Paris to golden-age Hollywood.”

Man Ray’s Literary Homage Through Painting

Aline et valcour_mannequin photograph

(left) Man Ray, Aline et Valcour, 1950. Oil on canvas, 30 x 38 in. Private Collection. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015 (right) Man Ray, Untitled (Mannequin with Cone and Sphere), 1926. Gelatin silver print, 11 x 14 1/4 in. The Bluff Collection. © Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY / ADAGP, Paris 2015

Titling this work after a novel written by the Marquis de Sade while he was incarcerated in the Bastille in the 1780s, Man Ray pays homage to the literary figure greatly admired by the Surrealists. The novel Aline et Valcour explores the relativity of moral standards, a theme the viewer is encouraged to find embedded in this cryptic composition based on Man Ray’s photograph featuring the same elements.

What similarities between Man Ray’s photograph (at right) and his painting (at left) of the subject do you notice? What differences stand out?