In 1915 Man Ray abandoned what he called his “Romantic-Expressionist-Cubist” style and adopted a mechanistic, graphic, flattened idiom like that developed by Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp during the same period. This drawing is preparatory to his most successful painting in this style, The Rope Dancer Accompanies Herself with Her Shadows of 1916 (Collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York), the subject of which was inspired by a vaudeville dancer whose movement he wished to suggest in a series of varying poses.¹ Man Ray’s interest in frozen sequential movement may derive from the experiments in photography he initiated about this time.
The particularized features of the figures in this drawing are eliminated to produce two-dimensional patterned forms that are silhouetted against black oval shadows. The dancer is accompanied not only by her shadow but also by music, concisely indicated by the voluted head of an instrument at the lower right of the support, the strings across the bottom, and the music stand at left. The position of her feet on the strings, which may double as a stave, may be meant to convey a specific sequence of notes, as if the dancer were indeed accompanying herself musically. It seems likely that this drawing represents the first stage in the conception of the painting. In the canvas the three positions of the dancer are superimposed and appear at the top of the composition, with the greater part of the field occupied by her distorted, enlarged, and vividly colored cutout shadows.
1. Man Ray discusses the genesis of this work in his autobiography, Self Portrait, Boston and Toronto, 1963, pp. 66–67, 71.