Through more than 170 photographs and illustrated books, the Raymond collection tells two stories: one of a radical moment in early twentieth-century art and the other of an impassioned collector whose adventurous spirit and vision harmonized perfectly with his subject. Beginning in the 1990s, art collector and filmmaker David Raymond judiciously sought out vintage prints from the 1920s through the 1940s that reflect the eye in its wild state (l’oeil a l’état sauvage), remaining true to the spirit of André Breton, founder of the first surrealist group in Paris. Raymond’s holdings of surrealist and modernist photography were distinguished by their quality, breadth, and rarity of subject matter. In 2007, the Cleveland Museum of Art made a major, transformative acquisition by acquiring that collection, one of the most important holdings of twentieth-century surrealist photography that remained in private hands.
Vertiginous camera angles, odd croppings, and exaggerated tones and perspectives are hallmarks of the two principal photographic movements of the period, surrealism and modernism. As with surrealist efforts in other media, artists making photographs also aimed to explore the irrational and the chance encounter—magic and the mundane—filtered through the unconscious defined by Sigmund Freud. Eventually, photography became a preeminent tool of surrealist visual culture.
Photographs from several nations, representing diverse artistic pathways and divergent attitudes toward photography, come together in this collection. Many of the photographs reflect Parisian circles, with masterful works by Man Ray, Brassaï, Maurice Tabard, and Roger Parry. Soviet Russia is represented by Alexander Rodchenko and El Lissitzky; Germany by László Moholy-Nagy and Erwin Blumenfeld, among others. In addition to these notable artists, the collection features many photographers whose work is not as well known in the United States, including Horacio Coppola of Argentina, Emiel van Moerkerken of Holland, and Marcel-G. Lefrancq of Belgium. A highlight of the collection is a grouping of 23 works by Dora Maar, a female photographer with a strong voice in surrealist Paris.