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L'enigme d'Isidore Ducasse

L'enigme d'Isidore Ducasse

Man Ray (in 1920 (1971))

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  • Tony Cairns asked

    What is the copyright or moral right on this artwork - who owns it and who can take an image of it and share it under creative commons with others including art students

    Is it Ok to take an image of it and share it with students

  • Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen answered

    Dear Tony, thanks for your questions. They are not so easy to answer. The artist, Man Ray died in 1976 so it will take another 30 years before the image can be published freely (75 years). But when a museum allows you to make photo's of the work in its current setting, you can share these with others (also students) as an individual. You cannot share them for professional use though. I hope this is useful. All best, Els

  • Giovanna Fazzuoli asked

    To Whom It May Concern,
    I would be very grateful if you could provide me with the replica's edition number.
    Many thanks,
    Giovanna Fazzuoli

  • Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen answered

    Dear Giovanna, The version of 'L'enigme d'Isidore Ducasse' that is part of our collection is the 'épreuve d'artiste', or 'artist proof', which we acquired directly from the artist. Best, Rianne


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More information

Man Ray originally made this work for a photograph. The object was lost and in 1971 he made this new version. The mysterious object has an equally mysterious title, which refers to the author Isidor Ducasse, who worked under the pseudonym Comte de Lautréamont. He wrote one of the surrealists' favourite books: 'Les Chants de Maldoror' (1869). They saw this strange and unfathomable book as a kind of manifesto. It was a source of titles for several surrealist works.

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Collection book

Collection book Order


Title L'enigme d'Isidore Ducasse
Material and technique Wood, fabric, rope, cardboard, metal, offset on paper and invisible object
Object type
Sculpture > Three-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is travelling
Dimensions Width 60 cm
Height 45.5 cm
Depth 24 cm
Artists Kunstenaar: Man Ray
Uitgever: Galleria Schwarz
Accession number BEK 1491 (MK)
Credits Aankoop / Purchase: 1972
Department Modern Art
Acquisition date 1972
Age artist Between 30 and 81 years old
Provenance Artist’s proof from an edition of 10 copies and 3 artist’s proofs, published by Galleria Schwarz, Milan 1971; artist’s collection, 1972
Exhibitions Rotterdam/Paris/Humlebaek 1971-72; Berlin/London 1993; Antwerp 1994; London 1995; Drachten 1998; London/New York 2001-02; Paris/Düsseldorf 2002; London/Rotterdam/Bilbao 2007-2008; Rotterdam 2013-14a; Rotterdam 2014b; Rotterdam 2017b
Internal exhibitions The Collection Enriched (2011)
Brancusi, Rosso, Man Ray - Framing Sculpture (2014)
Een paraplu, een naaimachine en een ontleedtafel. Surrealisme à la Dalí in Rotterdam. (2013)
De collectie als tijdmachine (2017)
Alles kids (2016)
Collectie - surrealisme (2017)
External exhibitions Behind the Curtain. Concealment and Revelation since the Renaissance (2016)
Surrealist Art - Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2021)
Dal nulla al sogno (2018)
Research Digitising Contemporary Art
A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van beuningen
Literature New York/Los Angeles/Chicago 1968, p. 31, fig. 32; Rotterdam/Paris/Humlebaek 1971-72, p. 144, cat. no. 143; Munich 1973-74, p. 203, cat. no. 81; Penrose 1975, p. 178; Schwarz 1977, pp. 283-84; Man Ray 1980, pp. 180-181, cat. no. 6; Man Ray/Martin 1983, cat. no. 27; Drachten 1998, cat. no. 20; London/Rotterdam/Bilbao 2007-08, pp. 262-63, cat. no. 5; Rotterdam 2007, pp. 36-37; Kamien-Kazhdan 2012, p. 109; Rotterdam 2014, pp. 208-09, cat. no. 42
Offset print > Mechanical > Planographic printing > Printing technique > Technique > Material and technique
Geographical origin The United States of America > North America > America

Entry catalogus Digitising Contemporary Art, A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van beuningen

Author: Marijke Peyser

In May 1914 the American artist Man Ray married the Belgian poet Adon Lacroix (pseudonym of Donna Lecoeur). The couple went to live in the United States. Lacroix worked extremely precisely when furnishing their house in Ridgefield, New Jersey: She carefully took the books out of the boxes. Sometimes she would read a passage aloud; sometimes she would translate a poem by Mallarmé or Rimbaud into English. The works of Apollinaire and Baudelaire emerged. She also read a passage from Les chants de Maldoror by Lautréamont.’[1] This book by the Comte de Lautréamont (pseudonym of Isidore Ducasse) made a particular impression on Man Ray, who recognized himself in the circumstances of the protagonist. Mervyn, the hero, is a pure and divinely beautiful child who makes every effort to extricate himself from his parents and his surroundings. In his quest for freedom Mervyn is pursued by Maldoror, the essence of evil. In the book Mervyn’s beauty is likened to the chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.[2] This phrase had been a great source of inspiration for the Surrealists (see Illustrations for 'The Songs of Maldoror'). Although little was known about Ducasse’s life and work in the years after the First World War, the writer was not unknown to André Breton and Philippe Soupault, the leaders of the fledgling Surrealist movement. Breton described Ducasse as the forerunner of Dada and Surrealism, and reprinted Ducasse’s Poésies in the avant-garde magazine Littérature in 1919.[3]

In July 1921 Man Ray crossed the Atlantic: he left the country of his birth and settled in Paris. When he arrived, his friend and fellow artist Marcel Duchamp was waiting for him. He provided him with somewhere to stay and took him along to the Café Certa, where he was welcomed by the Dadaists and later Surrealists Breton, Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard, Soupault and Jacques Rigaut.[4] Even before he went to Paris, Man Ray made an object that consisted of a sewing machine wrapped in a blanket and tied up with string, L’énigme d’Isidore Ducasse. Although the ‘enigma’ is easy for connoisseurs of Ducasse’s work to solve, the work retains a certain mysteriousness and arouses disquieting associations. In 1971 the gallery owner Arturo Schwarz, who had also taken the initiative for the ‘multiples’ of Duchamp’s readymades (see Bouche-évier), had an edition of ten copies and three épreuves d’artiste made. Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen’s copy is the only one with the label ‘Do not disturb’, which Man Ray had taken from a hotel room and added to the work.[5] He repeated the device of tying up an object in Vénus restaurée, another work in the museum’s collection.




[1] Baldwin 1988, p. 37.

[2] Lautréamont/Mano 1938, chant VI, 1, p. 256.

[3] Breton was the editor-in-chief of this paper, see New York 2009a, p. 51.

[4] Baldwin 1988, p. 82, says that Man Ray arrived in Paris on 22 July 1921. Penrose 1975, p. 66, wrote that Man Ray arrived there on 14 July.

Show research Digitising Contemporary Art Show research A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van beuningen
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