Le Soufflé

Copied Man Ray, Le Souffle, 1931, photogravure, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1976.84.10

Artwork Details

Le Soufflé
Compagnie Parisienne de Distribution d'Electricite
Not on view
sheet: 10 148 in. (26.020.3 cm.)
Credit Line
Museum purchase
Mediums Description
  • Still life — furniture — stand
  • Object — furniture — fan
Object Number

Artwork Description

In 1931 electricity was considered a luxury in France; most households were still powered by less expensive gas. When electric companies expanded their service to the middle class, an emerging appliance industry enticed housewives with electric-powered devices. Amid these developments, Paris-based power company, la Compagnie Parisienne de Distribution d’Electricité (CPDE) commissioned Man Ray to illustrate the myriad uses of electricity in the home. The portfolio of ten photographs was distributed in an edition of five-hundred to CPDE’s shareholders and top clients.
Le Souffle, French for “breeze,” renders the swift, blurred motion of an electric fan in action. This Rayograph, also called a photogram, was created without the use of a camera. Instead, Man Ray placed the fan, blades spinning, inside a darkroom in front of photosensitive paper, and then exposed the paper to light. To add another level of movement to the composition, he physically altered the position of the fan at the moment of exposure. Through his experiments with photographic processes and chance operations, Man Ray demonstrated the dynamic power of light and electricity.

A Democracy of Images: Photographs from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2013