Les mains libres

Year: 1937

Author: Paul Éluard (1895 - 1952)

Artist: Man Ray (1890 - 1976)

Publisher: Jeanne Bucher

Les mains libres, cover

When Man Ray first set foot in Paris on 14 July 1921, poet Paul Éluard was already sharing a table with the Surrealists Breton, Aragon and Soupault at the café Certà, where all young Dadaists and Surrealists came together and engaged in discussions. Éluard was then no longer the lonely poet tortured by desperate loves and poor health. Throughout the tumultuous 1920s, he proved himself able to develop quickly into a committed poet of the Surrealist movement. Unfortunately for Éluard, the crises of loneliness did not go away: Salvador Dalí stole his childhood sweetheart Gala (Helena Diakonova) away from him.


The very night he arrived in Paris, Man Ray was introduced to Éluard and the other Surrealists by his friend Marcel Duchamp. But it wasn't until the period 1934-1939 that an intimate friendship was to develop between the poet and the American artist.

Like every other child, Man Ray began to paint at the age of five, but he claims to have been admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts when he was seven. He soon did more than painting alone. Experiments with new disciplines and objects, aided by luck, made him famous thanks to his invention of a photographic process, Rayographies, in which objects are placed on photo paper and leave their imprint during the developing process.

Freedom: hands free, free play

Less famous are the 54 drawings by Man Ray from Les mains libres, which were 'illustrated' by Éluard with mostly short but powerful poems. Éluard's simple and elementary vocabulary made him the right person to illustrate Man Ray's graphic artworks, leaving the reader the freedom to create a personal vision of both text and image. One of the poems is called 'History of Science' and begins as follows:

You fear man.

Beware of fire

and ends with:

Continually invent fire

Air earth and water

His children

'Freedom' is a key theme here both for Man Ray and for Éluard. The title Les main libres means not only 'hands free' but also the 'free play' of the imagination, the artist's hand and the poet's mind. The collection ends with two portraits of Marquis de Sade, accompanied by two polemical poems. The edition also contains ten portraits and drawings without poems, titled 'Portraits' and 'Details'.

This copy of Les mains libres also contains a hand-written dedication from Man Ray to his pupil-photographer Florence Meyer. She played the violin, studied dancing and acting, but became successful as a portrait photographer of contemporary celebrities, like Judy Garland, Vladimir Horowitz and Thomas Mann. She later married the actor Oscar Homolka.

Bibliografische beschrijving

Description: Les mains libres : dessins / Man Ray ; illustrés par les poèmes de Paul Éluard. - Paris: Jeanne Bucher, 1937. - 176 p., [14] bl. pl. : ill. ; 29 cm

Printer: Henri Jourde (Paris)

Edition: 675 copies

This copy: Number 316 of 650 on Chester vergé

Note: With a handwritten dedication by Man Ray to Florence Meyer.

Bibliography: Bénézit 9-120 ; Hogben 104 ; Monod 4217

Shelfmark: KW Koopm K 306


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