Who is Marcel Duchamp? by Natasha Powell

Marcel Duchamp can be described as an author, sculptor, and painter (1887-1968).

In 1904, Duchamp joined his two brothers, Jacques Villon and Raymond Duchamp-Villon, in Paris, where he studied painting until 1905. His earlier works were Post-Impressionist style. During the year 1911 his painting became directed more towards Cubism. Nude Descending a Staircase was shown at the Salon díOr in 1912. Duchamp's radical style preceded the founding of the Dada form of art around 1913. Dadaism was an art movement based on deliberate irrationality and negation of traditional artistic values. He also used Surrealist and Cubist forms of art, using imagery produced by unnatural juxtapositions and abstract structure in form of fragmenting his objects. His artwork was often humorous and had no boundaries. Duchamp joined his brothers at an art academy in Paris. This is when Cezanne, Symbolism, Fauvism, Cubism, and popular illustration first influenced him. The Chess Players, Nude Descending a staircase, and The King and the Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes are only three of his spectacular paintings which used the Cubism art form. He used Cubist techniques around 1904-1912.


The Chess Players

Nude Descending a Staircase

The King and the Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes

In 1912, he devised a Cubist-inspired technique for depicting motion. He later became an abstract painter. Nude Descending a Staircase was an artwork which was constructed using Cubist inspiration. He constructed this work only with abstract lines and planes to exhibit the womanís/mans motion. Soon after its completion Nude Descending a Staircase was rejected by the Salon des Independants because they felt Duchamp was making fun of the Cubist form of art.

Another painting that soon followed Nude Descending a Staircase was The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes. This also resembled a type of abstract art, which has motion. Duchamp said the swift nudes were "flights of imagination". As Duchamp continued to work on other paintings he slowly departed from Cubism and took another direction towards abstract art. His painting The Passage from Virgin to Bride completely parted him form his Cubist ties and took on a new abstract form.

He used a very different technique to put together one of his main works, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, which put together a few of his smaller pieces of artworks, paint, lead wire, mirror plating, foil and dust.
It really is not a painting at all, yet two large pieces of glass, one on top of the other with different images.

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even was a monumental work done in 1923; Duchamp included within it several mini paintings: one in particular is the "Chocolate Grinder".

The Chocolate Grinder


It was a three-dimensional piece done with precision. Another painting which was included was "Network of Stoppages", which was a combination of three different images. One image was nine lines all connected, traced from three stoppages. The second image was an uncompleted version of Young Man and Girl in Spring, which was a painting done in 1910 and was rotated 90 degrees for the purpose of Duchamp's work. The final piece was the background sketch of The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even which is rotated sideways. Young Man and Girl in Spring is an allegory of union of male and female, as is Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even. The network of nine connected lines is a metaphor for the connection between the two works. Duchamp threw in other little displays of art in this piece also.

Duchamp worked on The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors for many years, eight in fact. In 1923 he no longer worked on it, calling it "definitely unfinished". A few years later the "The Large Glass", as called for short, was being shipped to a museum and broke into many pieces. Duchamp found that he actually admired the work more under these conditions, compared to its original state.

The Large Glass is not a work that is easily understood at first. To understand the work the viewer must know that each object is mobile, not static, and that it represents many intangible objects. Duchamp chose objects with symbolic purpose to them. Each symbolic object interacts with another. The Large Glass depicts a series of actions. The work is comprised of two different sheets of glass, each with individual actions taking place.


The top portion of Duchamp's The Large Glass has an object representing the bride and the bridesí halo. The top sequence can describe the courtship of a bride by her suitors. This upper half of glass is used to depict the brideís domain. The top portion of glass also connects in action with the lower section of glass.

The lower half of The Large Glass depicts the actions of the brideís suitors. In Duchamp's notes he labeled the parts Glider containing a waterwheel, scissors, mandala, eyewitness, and a chocolate grinder. This whole lower glass represents the interaction of chance and predestination. The connection between the top and lower half to this work is open for interpretation. Since Duchamp left this work unfinished the connection may never be known. Some may say it is symbolic for sexual intercourse between a bride and her suitors, others may say it is an exchange of wedding vows, or maybe even an exchange of flirty glares. This lower half of the glass is the bachelorís realm. One of the many parts to the bottom half include the glider with the water well in it. It moves side to side, representing the unpredictability and chance of fate. The water well inside is connected to the chocolate grinder by rotary motions. The chocolate grinder is connected on top by scissors. The scissors represent the dangers of random forces of fate. The mandala is a peephole, which in actuality reveals nothing because The Large Glass is an abstract realm, invisible to the eye. These are the many parts included in the lower portion of The Large Glass.


The bride in The Large Glass is not only stripped bare but stripped down to her inner self, revealing her aspirations and inspirations. Her halo, also shown on the upper half of The Large Glass, represents her aspirations. Therefore, it is represented in balloon shape, similar to a cartoon whose thoughts are written out in this manner. In the halo resides three nets which is the target to be fulfilled by a successful suitor. To begin the "story" of the work the bride releases an invisible "love gasoline" onto each suitor. The vapors symbolize the brides love impulse. The bachelor(s) are stimulated by the vapors and gas forms within the bachelor molds. Then, the gas is conducted into capillary tubes (the nine connected lines). After this it is moved into sieves which is one of the parts of The Large Glass which Duchamp was unable to complete. From here a butterfly pump, an element also imagined by Duchamp, collected the gas where it was liquefied. From the butterfly pump the now liquid gas was transported to a spiral and then there is a "splash", which is sent to the brides halo. As illustrated, The Large Glass is an ongoing, yet uncompleted work by Duchamp.


Marcel Duchamp had other talents in addition to being a painter, including making "ready-mades". Duchampís "ready-mades" consisted of everyday objects,such as a bicycle wheel, for example. In total, Duchamp created 21 bicycle wheels, but the original was lost. His ready-mades were experiments used to break the "tradition of art". His attempt was to create a new kind of art which was different from the norm. Another ready-made was his urinal, which is his most notorious, entitled Fountain. Duchamp submitted Fountain as a prank to avant grade art, meant to taunt his peers. For some this was not funny because he tried to equate modern art with a urinal. During the exhibition it was "misplaced" and found soon after.

From 1915-1923 he incorporated much of his time into The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even and his ready-mades. Even though Duchamp was excellent at his work as an artist, in 1923 he moved back to Paris where he seemed to have abandoned his love for art for his newfound love for chess. Duchamp settled permanently in New York in 1942. He died on October 2, 1968.

Marcel is a very unique artist who brings a new sense and train of thought to art. His artwork requires his viewers to use their mind and imagination rather than just their eyes. He brings a new meaning to art by allowing art to take many forms. His ready-mades, for example, were not traditional pieces of art. His ready-mades actually shocked people by him equating the object to modern art. Today, however, many forms of art occur, of which Duchamp is a great influence. Marcel Duchamp is a true inspiration also because he is not a perfectionist. He allows his work to come out the way it does. For example, The Large Glass broke as it was being exhibited in a museum and he glued the pieces back together. His creation appeared different, yet he turned out to like it even more than before. Duchampís goal was to shift emphasis from the final product to the artistís intentions. His legacy includes insight that art can be about ideas instead of traditional objects. He is a true inspiration to generations of artists to come.