Front / Recto

  • Title Three Heads (Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp)
  • Negative Date 1920
  • Print Date 1920–28
  • Medium Gelatin silver print
  • Dimensions Image 8 1/8 x 6 3/16" (20.7 x 15.7 cm)
  • Place Taken New York
  • Credit Line Thomas Walther Collection. Gift of Thomas Walther
  • MoMA Accession Number 1777.2001
  • Copyright © 2015 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
  • Description

    Shortly after Marcel Duchamp moved to New York in 1915, he met Man Ray, and the two became immediate friends whose parallel paths saw each abandon painting for optical, cerebral, and mechanical art forms. Man Ray took up the camera and made many photographs of Duchamp, of his works (see Man Ray’s Dust Breeding, of 1920, for example), and of their bohemian circle. Prominent among these were Coatrack, a shot of the nude Else Freytag von Loringhoven materializing behind a tailor’s mannequin, and the photograph of the woman smoking tacked to the wall in this image, all made in 1920, the same year the Nineteenth Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote in the United States, was ratified. In such pictures Man Ray evokes a flagrant, new public persona for women.

    That April, collector-philanthropist Katherine Dreier and Duchamp cofounded the Société Anonyme, an organization intended to promote and exhibit modern European and American art in New York. Various artists assisted in this enterprise, including Man Ray, who was to photograph the art and artists for publicity and postcards, and, in the first year especially, Dreier was assisted by Joseph Stella, an Italian Futurist.

    Stella and Duchamp were closely linked for Dreier, who found each artist’s work and knowledge of current European tendencies salutary and their commitment and help essential. Duchamp was Dreier’s constant counselor, and Stella helped to select and hang the early exhibitions. Both artists exhibited in the Société’s opening show (April 30–June 15, 1920), and the duo participated in a question-and-answer session with Dreier following the Société’s winter 1920–21 exhibition. Their presence together on the couch in this image reflects their close association with Dreier at this moment.

    Man Ray referred to portrait photography, with which he would earn his living in Paris, as “taking heads”; that he considered the photograph of the woman smoking an essential part of this image is indicated by his title, Three Heads. Stella, whose ingratiating way with Dreier irritated Man Ray, contrasts in joviality and girth with the monkish intensity of Duchamp; juxtaposed with the sexy picture on the wall, this inapposite pairing was just the sort of delicious, lightly barbed, nonsense that delighted Man Ray and made him reach for his camera.

    In 1920, Man Ray was mostly using 9 by 12 centimeter (3 9/16 by 4 ¾ inch) glass plate negatives, but for this image he brought out a much larger glass plate camera for 6 ½ by 8 ½ inch (16.5 by 21.6 centimeter) negatives. Made by direct contact of the negative on one of the popular gaslight papers of the day, this print shows meticulous preparation and a working process that was largely complete before a print was even made. The paper, with a high cotton fiber content, was probably purchased and printed in 1920. Man Ray must have used it straight from the box, as there are no signs of trimming, unusual for this artist who readily adjusted with cropping and Retouching. The matte surface enhanced deep shadow, but was also easily retouched. The fact that virtually no retouching was necessary to the faces or suits of the sitters is evidence of Man Ray’s careful setup. The original glass plate negative shows dark spots and bumps in the wall that Man Ray spotted and surgically etched away, always with a light touch, to minimize visual distraction from the three heads.

    —Lee Ann Daffner, Maria Morris Hambourg

Back / Verso

  • Mount Type No mount
  • Marks and Inscriptions Signed in black ink on sheet recto, bottom left: Man/Ray/1920. Inscribed in pencil on sheet verso, top left: Man Ray. Stamped in black ink on sheet verso, bottom right: MAN RAY/31 bis, RUE/CAMPAGNE/PREMIERE/PARIS XIV.
  • Provenance The artist; to Julien Levy Gallery, New York [1]; to Frank Kolodny, New York/Princeton, early 1970s [2]; purchased by Jane Corkin Gallery, Toronto [3]; purchased by Thomas Walther, September 1984 [4]; given to The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2001.
    [1] Jane Corkin, telephone conversation with Maria Morris Hambourg, November 2013.
    The print was shown in Photographs by Man Ray at Julien Levy Gallery, April 9–30, 1932.
    [2] MacGill/Walther 2000, p. 23; and Corkin, telephone conversation with Hambourg.
    [3] Corkin, telephone conversation with Hambourg.
    [4] Jane Corkin Gallery invoice no. 1189, September 18, 1984.


  • Retouch Detail
    Detail showing aqueous retouching, applied with a brush, and etching. The area of detail is 9 x 13 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
  • Surface Sheen Matte
  • Techniques Retouching (additive)
    Contact print
    Retouching (reductive)
  • PTM
    View of the recto of the artwork made using reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) software, which exaggerates subtle surface details and renders the features of the artwork plainly visible. Department of Conservation, MoMA
  • Micro-raking
    Raking-light close-up image, as shot. Area of detail is 6.7 x 6.7 mm. Department of Conservation, MoMA
    Raking-light close-up image, processed. Processing included removal of color, equalization of the histogram, and sharpening, all designed to enhance visual comparison. Department of Conservation, MoMA

Paper Material

  • Format Unknown
  • Weight Double weight
  • Thickness (mm) 0.28
  • UV Fluorescence Recto negative
    Verso negative
  • Fiber Analysis Softwood bleached sulfite 73%
    Hardwood bleached sulfite 2%
    Rag 24%
  • Material Techniques Developing-out paper
  • XRF

    This work was determined to be a gelatin silver print via X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry.

    The following elements have been positively identified in the work, through XRF readings taken from its recto and verso (or from the mount, where the verso was not accessible):

    • Recto: P, S, Ca, Cr, Zn, Sr, Ag, Ba
    • Verso: Al, Si, S, K, Ca, Fe, Zn, Sr, Ba

    The graphs below show XRF spectra for three areas on the print: two of the recto—from areas of maximum and minimum image density (Dmax and Dmin)—and one of the verso or mount. The background spectrum represents the contribution of the XRF instrument itself. The first graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the lower energy range (0 to 8 keV). The second graph shows elements identified through the presence of their characteristic peaks in the higher energy range (8 to 40 keV).

    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Al, Si, P, S, K, Ca, Cr, Ag, Ba
    Areas examined: Recto (Dmax: black; Dmin: green), Verso or Mount (blue), Background (red)
    Elements identified: Fe, Zn, Sr, Ag

In Context

Historical Publications

  • The Little Review 9, no. 1 (Autumn 1922): 17 (as Joseph Stella and Marcel Duchamp).

    “Among the Best of American Painters.” Vanity Fair, March 1923, p. 52 (as untitled photograph).

Historical Exhibitions

  • Julien Levy Gallery, New York. Photographs by Man Ray. April 9–30, 1932. (this print)

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