The Lovers, 1933, editioned replica 1973, consists of a rolled lead sheet with the outline of lips painted onto it. A loop of rope extends from one end, suggesting a head, while two other sections of rope, linking the two ends of the lead sheet, complete the suggestion of a body. The piece has also been known with the additional titles ‘Mon Rêve/My Dream’.
The original piece (now lost) was executed after the ending of Man Ray’s passionate, and sometimes tormented, relationship with the beautiful American photographer and model Lee Miller (1907-1977). The lips painted onto the lead piece may have been suggested by a memory of a lipstick imprint of the lips of his former lover Kiki on his collar, but they are recognisably those of Lee, and the object is evidence of his continued longing for her, mingled perhaps with suggestions of suicide (the noose-like rope) and death (the hollow lead ‘case’). The theme of the disembodied lips obsessed Man Ray. He included the motif in his best known painting, A l’Heure de l’observatoire, les amoureux, 1932-4, which shows lips floating above a landscape. Of the image of the lips in this painting Man Ray wrote in 1935:
It is seven in the morning, before satisfying an imaginary hunger – the sun not yet decided whether to rise or to set – that your mouth comes to replace all these indecisions [...] Your mouth itself becomes two bodies, separated by a long, undulating horizon. Like the earth and the sky, like you and me ... Lips of the sun, you ceaselessly attract me, and in the instant before I wake up, when I detach myself from my body ... I meet you in the neutral light and in the void of space, and, sole reality, I kiss you with everything that is still left in me – my own lips.
(Quoted in Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray: The Rigour of Imagination, London 1977, p.61.)
Love was central to surrealism, and this work is an expression of the group’s fascination with, and devotion to, a concept of love that embraced desires, dreams and philosophical meditations on the nature of reality.
The original object was shown in the exhibition of objects held at the Galerie Charles Ratton in Paris in 1936, as ‘objet surréaliste’, but was lost thereafter. In 1973 an edition of nine examples, with two trial pieces, was published. The edition was made by Man Ray’s assistant Lucien Treillard, working with Georges Maréchal, under Man Ray’s direction and using a photograph of the original piece as a guide. Man Ray drew the lips, which were engraved into the lead, and he then painted them.
Despite Man Ray’s status as one of the pioneering figures of interwar art, his objects are not particularly widely known. This is largely due to his greater fame as a photographer; but it is also in part due to the complex history of many of his objects. A number of the earliest works were lost or accidentally destroyed (the same is true of many of the early classic objects by his friend Marcel Duchamp). Others are known primarily as photographs reproduced in surrealist magazines and their status as objects has been obscured by the celebrity of the photographic images. In fact, Man Ray sometimes made objects in order to photograph them, and then discarded them, or reused them in other ways. He also remade some works, thereby creating new originals, and when, in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a greater commercial interest in the objects, he, like Duchamp, arranged for some of his objects to be produced in editions.
In addition to The Lovers, Tate owns a number of other objects by Man Ray. These are L’Enigme d’Isidore Ducasse, 1920, remade 1972 (Tate T07957), New York, 1920, editioned replica 1973 (Tate T07882), Cadeau, 1921, editioned replica 1972 (Tate T07883), Indestructible Object, 1922-3, remade 1933, editioned replica 1965 (Tate T07614), Emak Bakia, 1926, remade 1970 (Tate T07959), and Ce qui manque à nous tous, 1927, editioned replica 1962 (Tate T07960).
Man Ray: Objets de mon affection, Paris 1983
Arturo Schwarz, Man Ray: The Rigour of Imagination, London 1977, p.61