While the first major museum retrospective of portraits by avant-garde photographer Man Ray (running at The National Portrait Gallery until Monday May 27) is setting pulses racing, they will accelerate still further with the opportunity to admire – and acquire – a complete set of the artist’s contact prints. London’s Atlas Gallery is inviting offers from £220,000 for the entire collection.
This rare set of 173 prints by the late American dadaist photographer includes many of his iconic images (solarised portrait of a woman in first picture; self-portrait in third picture), along with rarely seen portraits of artists from his circle, such as Picasso (second picture) and Braque, and writers such as Hemingway and Joyce. Of these, 45 works in various sizes are on show at the gallery, which has dealt exclusively in photography since 2000. As many of the prints are full frame, it’s an opportunity to see raw, original versions of innovative images that later became celebrated throughout the world.
Several sets of contact prints were created as a reference for Man Ray’s work during his lifetime (1890-1976); one is in the Pompidou Centre in the stylistic innovator’s adopted city of Paris. But provenance-conscious collectors will be intrigued to hear that Atlas Gallery’s set was acquired by a European collector in 2002 from a previous owner who purchased it directly from Man Ray’s darkroom printer, Pierre Gassman – a technical genius known for his collaborations with some of photography’s greatest names, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and Brassai.
“It is extremely rare for these prints to come on the market, as they were mostly produced for reference,” says Ben Burdett, Atlas Gallery’s owner. “It is even rarer for a group that represents so many aspects and periods of his work, so completely, to be offered. It’s not only an enormous coup to bring this exhibition to the Atlas Gallery, but a huge privilege for us.” And, indeed, a great excitement for collectors, too.