Man Ray enjoyed chess, relishing that the game, by design, requires both strategy and spontaneity to play. Though Man Ray remained “a third-rate player,” as he put it, his interest in the game “was directed towards designing new forms for chess pieces.” Manufactured in 1926 and based on his design for an earlier turned-wood set, the artist’s Chess Set (made from silver-plated and oxidized silver-plated brass) converts the familiar form of every chess piece into a more stylized shape that relies on associations — such as the connection between a king and an Egyptian pyramid — to reveal each piece’s identity. The sets tallest piece measures 4-inches high.
19th century Bengali craftspeople found an export market in Britain for decorative chess sets carved from ivory.
The two sides were sometimes carved to represent opposing armies of local soldiers and Europeans. The example seen here, with relatively simple carving is unusual as signs of wear and repair suggest it was used for playing games rather than as a showpiece for display. Hand-carving has produced variation even between pawns of the same side.
Photographed in the British Galleries at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.