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Lèvres d'or

Lèvres d'or

Man Ray (in 1967)

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Title Lèvres d'or
Material and technique Binding, cardboard, paper, mirror, gold leaf and thread
Object type
Assemblage > Three-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is in storage
Dimensions Height 38.5 cm
Width 25.5 cm
Depth 6.5 cm
Artists Kunstenaar: Man Ray
Maker: Jean Petithory
Maker: Mercher
Accession number MB 1995/1 (MK)
Credits Aankoop / Purchase: 1995
Department Modern Art
Acquisition date 1995
Age artist About 77 years old
Exhibitions Een prikkelcollectie (2000)
Collectie - surrealisme (2017)
Surrealism and Beyond (2016)
External exhibitions Dal nulla al sogno (2018)
Research Digitising Contemporary Art
Geographical origin The United States of America > North America > America

Please note: The metadata of this object have not been checked.
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Author: Marijke Peyser

The title of this assemblage, Lèvres d’or (Golden Lips), is a pun on une livre d’or (a pound of gold) and un livre d’or (a golden book or guest book). The object consists of an old book in which the pages have been altered: a rectangular area was cut out of each page. Man Ray also put a mirror inside the book and applied gold lips to the cover. All these adaptations changed the book into a make-up box that Man Ray’s models could use. The schematically rendered lips and the inscription lèvres d’or refer to a key work by Man Ray from 1934: the painting A l’heure de l’observatoire Les amoureux.

Man Ray met the American Lee Miller on a summer’s evening in Paris in 1929. Miller grew up with photography: her father was an amateur photographer and frequently photographed her. As a teenager she began to take photographs herself and in time became accomplished in this medium. She also had experience as a photographic model for Edward Steichen and others. During her meeting with Man Ray she proposed becoming his assistant. This gave rise to a professional as well as an amorous relationship that lasted for three years. After they broke up in 1932 Miller returned to the United States. Man Ray got over his grief with the aid of oils and canvas. He spent two years working on A l’heure de l’observatoireLes amoureux, which is based on a photograph of Miller’s lips.

Man Ray maintained that the ‘lips’ on the large canvas spoke for themselves. The work occupied a prominent place in Fantastic Art. Dada, Surrealism (1936-37), the exhibition staged by Alfred H. Barr Jr, the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.[1] In 1971 the painting came to Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen on the occasion of the major retrospective of the artist (see Mon premier amour and Projet pour la toile ʻPremier amourʼ (huile)), where this assemblage was also shown. The ‘lips’ featured on the cover of the catalogue and on the invitation. After Rotterdam the exhibition travelled to the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris and then to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.[2] Man Ray would have liked the exhibition to have ended in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in the city where he was born, so it was great disappointment when the museum announced that it did not have the money to fund it.[3]

The lips motif continued to fascinate Man Ray. It also featured, for example, in a volume of Surrealist poems by Paul Éluard, Les mains libres (1937), which was illustrated by Man Ray. His La femme et son poisson, undeniably refers to the ‘lips’ and thus to the woman and muse who meant so much to him. However he did not make the assemblage Lèvres d’or until many years later – in 1967 when he was seventy-seven.


[1] Man Ray 1963, p. 257: ‘The doors [of the museum] were wide open so that the entrance floodlit my Lovers, which seemed to strike the keynote of the exhibition. Here my painting stood out in all its scale and provocative intent.’

[2] Rotterdam/Paris/Humlebaek 1971-72.

[3] Baldwin 1988, p. 351.

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