Man Ray Designs a Supremely Elegant, Geometric Chess Set in 1920–and It Now Gets Re-Issued

Yes­ter­day, Col­in Mar­shall fea­tured Man Ray’s “Sur­re­al­ist Chess­board” from 1934, which paid homage to the lead­ers of the Sur­re­al­ist move­ment. Though artis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant, the chess­board had some prac­ti­cal lim­i­ta­tions. Made up of only 20 squares (as com­pared to the tra­di­tion­al 64), the “Sur­re­al­ist Chess­board” would­n’t let you play an actu­al game of chess.

For that, we need to turn to Man Ray’s chess set fash­ioned in 1924. Made of abstract geo­met­ric forms, this set (on dis­play above, jump to the 3:30 mark to real­ly see it) fea­tured some uncon­ven­tion­al chess pieces: the king is a pyra­mid; the queen, a cone; the cas­tle, a cube; the bish­op, a bot­tle; the knight, the head scroll of a vio­lin; and the pawn, an ele­gant sphere.

We said you could actu­al­ly play chess on this board. And indeed you can. In 2012, the Man Ray Trust autho­rized a new edi­tion of this set, mak­ing it avail­able to chess enthu­si­asts look­ing for a hand­some set. Craft­ed in Ger­many, it’s made of sol­id beech wood.

This chess­board you can obtain.

As for the oth­er mod­ern chess­board Man Ray designed in 1945, it may be out of your league. David Bowie owned one of the few exist­ing copies of that 1945 board, and, ear­li­er this month, it sold for $1.3 mil­lion at a Sothe­by’s auc­tion in Lon­don.

For more infor­ma­tion on Man Ray’s chess­boards, read this short arti­cle from Chess Col­lec­tors Inter­na­tion­al (see page 18). Or see The Imagery of Chess Revis­it­ed, which cov­ers Man Ray’s boards and beyond.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Man Ray Cre­ates a “Sur­re­al­ist Chess­board,” Fea­tur­ing Por­traits of Sur­re­al­ist Icons: Dalí, Bre­ton, Picas­so, Magritte, Miró & Oth­ers (1934)

Man Ray’s Por­traits of Ernest Hem­ing­way, Ezra Pound, Mar­cel Duchamp & Many Oth­er 1920s Icons

Man Ray and the Ciné­ma Pur: Four Sur­re­al­ist Films From the 1920s

Watch Dreams That Mon­ey Can Buy, a Sur­re­al­ist Film by Man Ray, Mar­cel Duchamp, Alexan­der Calder, Fer­nand Léger & Hans Richter

Mar­cel Duchamp, Chess Enthu­si­ast, Cre­at­ed an Art Deco Chess Set That’s Now Avail­able via 3D Print­er

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Comments (2)
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  • Kip W says:

    Sothe­by’s (at the link) has their board set up wrong, with black squares at each play­er’s near right. Also, the kern­ing is poor. No chess play­ers at the auc­tion house?

  • Garth says:

    Sothe­by’s web­site shows that Bowie’s set sold for £102,000(-ish) noth­ing like the $1.3 mil­lion sug­gest­ed above.

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