Man Ray



Original title
La Femme et son Poisson
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 600 x 730 mm
frame: 775 x 905 x 110 mm
Presented by William N. Copley 1960

Display caption

Pisces was based on an image from Les Mains libres (Free Hands), a suite of drawings that Man Ray published with poems by Paul Eluard in 1937. ‘In these drawings my hands are dreaming’, he later remarked. The woman lies alongside a fish to create what the artist described as ‘a contrasting of similar and different forms at the same time’. Man Ray strengthened the identification of woman and fish by choosing Pisces, the zodiac sign of paired fishes, as the English title.

Gallery label, July 2008

Catalogue entry

Man Ray 1890-1976

T00324 La Femme et son Poisson (Pisces) 1938

Inscribed 'Man Ray | 1938' b.r.
Oil on canvas, 23 5/8 x 28 (60 x 73)
Presented by William N. Copley 1960
Prov: William N. Copley, Longpont-sur-Orge (purchased from the artist for presentation)
Exh: Man Ray, ICA, London, March-April 1959 (31); Man Ray, Galerie Rive Droite, Paris, October 1959 (9); Man Ray, Los Angeles County Museum, October-December 1966 (44, repr.); Surrealism, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, September-November 1975 (39, repr.); National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, November 1975-January 1976 (39, repr.)
Lit: Man Ray, Self Portrait (London 1963), pp.227, 331-2, 335; Roland Penrose, Man Ray (London 1975), pp.134-41, repr. pl.87
Repr: Simon Wilson, The Surrealists (London 1974), pl.2; Simon Wilson, Surrealist Painting (London 1975), pl.12 in colour

This picture is based on a pen and ink drawing of 1936 reproduced in Man Ray, Les Mains Libres; Dessins illustrés par les Poèmes de Paul Eluard (Paris 1937), p.72, opposite a short poem by Paul Eluard entitled 'La Femme et son Poisson'. The book resulted from Man Ray showing this drawing and a number of other recent drawings of a similar kind to Eluard, who asked him to leave them with him. When he returned some weeks later, Man Ray was delighted to find that Eluard had 'illustrated' each drawing with a poem.

In letters of 9 and 17 June 1960 the artist stated that 'The titles were all my own which Eluard retained when he wrote the poems which were inspired by both the titles and the drawings ... There is no hidden theme to the painting. It is a contrasting of similar and different forms at the same time; in this case aerodynamic.' If an alternative title was to be used at all, he would prefer 'Pisces' rather than the literal English equivalent 'Woman and her Fish'. He added further: 'It is one of a half dozen paintings of my surrealist period in the 30s, but each one with different motives. A duplicate of Pisces was painted during the war, in the U.S., but I found the original on my return to Paris. This is the one you have.'

Later, in 1971, he made a further version of this composition in low-relief, which is being cast in bronze in an edition of eight (repr. Janus, Man Ray, Milan 1973, pl.148).

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.477-8, reproduced p.477