Man Ray originally made this work for a photograph.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 Maldodor' (1869). They saw this strange and unfathomable book as a kind of manifesto. It was a source of titles for several surrealist works.
Giovanna Fazzuoli asked
To Whom It May Concern,
I would be very grateful if you could provide me with the replica's edition number.
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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|Title||L'enigme d'Isidore Ducasse|
|Material and technique||Wood, fabric, rope, cardboard, metal, offset on paper and invisible object|
Sculpture > Three-dimensional object > Art object
|Location||This object is travelling|
Width 60 cm
Height 45.5 cm
Depth 24 cm
Uitgever: Galleria Schwarz
|Accession number||BEK 1491 (MK)|
|Credits||Aankoop / Purchase: 1972|
|Age artist||Between 30 and 81 years old|
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De collectie als tijdmachine (2017)
Collectie - surrealisme (2017)
Behind the Curtain. Concealment and Revelation since the Renaissance (2016)
Dal nulla al sogno (2018)
|Research||Digitising Contemporary Art|
Offset print > Mechanical > Planographic printing > Printing technique > Technique > Material and technique
|Geographical origin||The United States of America > North America > America|
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.’ 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. 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.
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. 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. He repeated the device of tying up an object in Vénus restaurée, another work in the museum’s collection.
 Baldwin 1988, p. 37.
 Lautréamont/Mano 1938, chant VI, 1, p. 256.
 Breton was the editor-in-chief of this paper, see New York 2009a, p. 51.
 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.
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