Artwork of the month June

Man Ray, Portrait imaginaire d’Arcimboldo, 1953

Man Ray
* 1890 in Philadelphia, USA, † 1976 in Paris, France
Portrait imaginaire d’Arcimboldo, 1953
Oil on canvas, original frame

Picture size: 46.5 x 32.8 cm, frame size: 69.5 x 50 x 2.5 cm
Purchased with funds from
 "Stiftung Freunde des Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein"

Man Ray left behind an extraordinarily diverse oeuvre comprising almost all artistic techniques. His photographs, for example, are regarded as icons of their genre, as are his sculptural objects. Despite his affinity to the avant-gardes of his day, he held the old masters to be incontestable: "We cannot do better than the old masters […] we can only do something different."

The portrait shows a man in profile. The hue of his skin shimmers in shades of grey, the contours—in relation to the size of the head—are comparatively pronounced and divide the face into peculiar segments. We cannot tell whose portrait this is. The title gives us the following information: Portrait imaginaire d’Arcimboldo. Giuseppe Arcimboldo († 1593) was one of the most mysterious artist figures of the 16th century. As an artist at the court of the Habsburg emperors, he made numerous portraits of bizarre grace: a pumpkin as a face, pears as noses, apples as cheeks, flowers and fruit baskets as hats. Together with the fanciful figures of the Dutchman Hieronymus Bosch (1450–1516), his fantastic pictures were an important source of inspiration for the surrealists. With his surrealist manifesto of 1924, André Breton created the theoretical foundations for the visual arts and the poetry of the unconscious, the unreal and the surreal. Man Ray, who was already living in Paris at this time, was among the most well-known members of this group, along with Max Ernst. His portrait is a homage to Arcimboldo, the old master.

In addition, Man Ray explores the latter’s work in his own way. He colours the subject’s attire to match the frame he fashioned. Also, the dots of colour echo the structure of the hardboard. The significance of the painted materials for Arcimboldo is demonstrated in this confrontation. Man Rays artistic stance is made clear when he speaks of painting: "I paint what cannot be photographed […]. If it is something […] like a dream or a subconscious impulse I have to resort to drawing or painting."

Robin Hemmer
<b>Man Ray, Portrait imaginaire d’Arcimboldo, 1953</b>
Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein highlights a work from the permanent collection each month throughout the year. Works from the collection of the Hilti Art Foundation are also included in this series on a regular basis.