Marcel Duchamp

Born on 28 July 1887, in Blainville, near Rouen, France. French painter, poet, experimentator in films and chess player. He is the brother of Raymond Duchamp-Villon, the sculptor, and of Suzanne Duchamp, the poetess and a half brother of Jacques Villon.

In 1911 he was a member in the painters’ circle known as the “Golden Section”, together with La Fresnaye, Léger, Metzinger, Picabia, and others. Influenced by cubism he painted the picture “The Chess Players” and the first studies for his “Nude Descending a Staircase”. In the same year he created “The Coffee-Mill”, important as regards to form and the part it played in the general development. Many problems of Dadaism (mechanical drawings by Picabia, Max Ernst, etc.) and of surrealism were anticipated in it. In 1912 he painted one of his main works, “Nude Descending a Staircase”, shown for the first time in October of that year at the exhibition of the Golden Section. In 1913 it caused a sensation at the New York “Armory Show”.

In 1914 he put his signature to a second-rate landscape reproduction by an unknown artist after adding a green and a red patch, calling the whole work “Pharmacy”. “Ready-Mades” were banal objects of every-day use such as a bottle holder, a snow-shovel, etc., which he signed with his name after giving them titles totally unconnected with their functional use.

In 1915 he went to the United States for the first time and soon became the centre of the circle of painters round the “Stieglitz” gallery. That group had adopted an ‘anti-art’ attitude and was thus a movement parallel to Zurich Dadaism. In 1917 Duchamp sent a work called “Fountain” to the New York “Independent Show”, signed with the name “R. Mutt”, it was nothing but a common urinal. The Ready-Mades demonstrated his profound contempt for the bourgeois conception of art.

In 1917 Duchamp edited the periodicals, The Blind Man and Rongwrong, which had an unmistakably Dadaist character. “La vierge”, “Mariée”, “Passage de la vierge à la mariée”, etc., pictures painted in 1912 – some on glass and others on canvas – were the points of departure for his monumental work; (painted on glass): “La mariée mise à nu par ses cèlibataires” (“The bride stripped bare by her bachelors”), at which he worked from 1915 to 1923 and finally left unfinished, to devote himself to chess-playing and to mechanical and optical experiments (films) etc.

From 1942 to 1944, together with Max Ernst and André Breton, he edited the surrealist periodical VVV, in New York. He died in 1968.

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