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Portrait of Nelly van Doesburg

Portrait of Nelly van Doesburg

Man Ray (in 1923)

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Title Portrait of Nelly van Doesburg
Material and technique Vintage gelatin silver print on fibre-based paper
Object type
Photograph > Two-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is in storage
Dimensions Width 19,9 cm
Height 27,3 cm
Artists Artist: Man Ray
Accession number 3500 (MK)
Credits Purchased with the support of Mondriaan Fund, 2002
Department Modern Art
Acquisition date 2002
Creation date in 1923
Entitled parties © Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2018
Provenance Tristan Tzara, 1920-21; Theo van Doesburg; Nelly van Doesburg-Van Moorsel; Wies van Moorsel; on loan from the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands 1999-2002
Exhibitions Rotterdam 2017b
Internal exhibitions Surreëel: foto's uit de collectie van Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2011)
Collectie - surrealisme (2017)
External exhibitions Dal nulla al sogno (2018)
Research Show research A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Gelatine silver print > Bromide print > Photographic printing technique > Mechanical > Planographic printing > Printing technique > Technique > Material and technique

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Entry catalogue A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van beuningen

Author: Marijke Peyser

In the museum’s collection there are two portrait photographs taken by Man Ray: one of Francis Picabia and one of Nelly van Doesburg. They are only the tip of the iceberg, as Man Ray made countless portraits of his friends in the Paris and New York art worlds.[1] The portrait of Nelly dates from 1923, the year she and Theo van Doesburg moved to Paris permanently. She had met Theo three years earlier, when on 10 July 1920 the talented young pianist Nelly van Moorsel attended a lecture in the Haagsche Kunstkring given by one of the leaders of De Stijl, Theo van Doesburg.[2] It was love at first sight.[3] In the 1920s the couple witnessed the Dada activities in Paris at close quarters.

Shortly before he met Nelly, Van Doesburg had come into contact with Dada. In the December 1919 issue of the magazine De Stijl he mentioned Dada publications that Tristan Tzara had sent him. In May 1920 the artists began to write to one another. This correspondence focuses on the attention Van Doesburg devoted to Dada in De Stijl and the planned publication of the Dutch Dadaist magazine Mécano. The first personal meeting between the two in Paris, probably in June, made an impression on Van Doesburg. On 23 June 1921 he wrote to his friend Evert Rinsema: ‘My conversation with Tristan Tzara in the Hotel Boulinvilliers is unforgettable. You know I find that calm assurance, that control so good.[4] When they arrived in Paris in May 1923, they stayed for a couple of days with their friend and fellow artist Piet Mondrian.[5] Theo and Nelly lived in or near Paris for the rest of their lives.

Once well-established there, Nelly made various attempts to get work as a pianist. Possibly thanks to her friendship with Arthur Honegger, one of the six avant-garde composers of Le Groupe des Six, she was able to take lessons from the Russian pianist Felix Borowski and from Alfred Cortot, the director of the École Normale de Musique.[6] Compositions by Le Groupe des Six were in the programme of the Dada evening Soirée du Coeur à Barbe which Tzara staged in the Théatre Michel in Paris on 6 July 1923. The day before the event, Tzara asked his neighbour, Man Ray, to make a film for the occasion. Man Ray made Le retour à la raison (Return to Reason, 1923). Rhythmus 21 (1921), a film by the German filmmaker, painter and poet Hans Richter, was also shown.[7] Nelly van Doesburg provided the musical accompaniment to the evening.[8] The evening was scheduled to end with Tzara’s play Le coeur à gaz (The Gas Heart, 1921), but it never got that far: halfway through violent disturbances broke out between the Dadaists, the followers of Tzara, and the Surrealists, grouped around André Breton. The manager of the theatre called the police with the result that the ‘combatants’ were immediately reconciled and turned on the police: ‘Down with the police! We’re together!’[9] After the police went away the commotion started again. It was a memorable evening, which also marked the end of the Dadaist movement.[10]



[1] In 2013 the National Portrait Gallery devoted the exhibition Man Ray Portraits to them. See http://www.npg.org.uk//whatson/man-ray-portraits/exhibition.php (consulted 3 March 2017).

[2] Van Moorsel 2000, p. 23.

[3] They married in 1928. For Van Doesburg’s previous marriages, see ibid., pp. 30-36.

[4] Tuijn 2003, p. 124.

[5] Van Moorsel 2000, pp. 92-93.

[6] Ibid., p. 96; Le Groupe des Six consisted of Georges Auric, Louis Durey, Arthur Honegger, Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc and Germaine Tailleferre.

[7] The museum has a copy of this film in its collection.

[8] For the full programme of the evening, see Van Moorsel 2000, p. 105.

[9] Ibid., p. 106.

[10] André Breton published the first Surrealist Manifesto in October 1924.

Show research A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
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