Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University

DAC Collection Artist Information

Marcel Duchamp

French painter, sculptor, and theorist

Brief biography, in most instances from the Union List of Artist Names® Online:
Duchamp’s work and ideas have served as a starting point for a conceptual approach to art. By refusing to accept the standards and practices of the established art world, Duchamp redefined our understanding of what constitutes an art object. Duchamp was born into a family of artists, and by the age of 15, he turned to painting, executing a series of landscapes in the Impressionist style. From 1910, Duchamp emulated the structural compositions and brushstrokes of Cézanne, and used an intense color palette reminiscent of The Fauves. While living with his brother in Puteaux, a suburb of Paris, Duchamp came in contact with a host of avant-garde writers and poets, notably Léger, Apollinaire, and Kupka, and as a result his painting shifted to incorporate the fragmented style of Cubism. This exposure to Cubism, along with his interest in the photographic sequences of Eadweard Muybridge resulted in the work, "Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2" (1912). Duchamp tried to show the work at the Salon des Indepéndants in Paris, but the title, inscribed on the canvas, was objected to and he withdrew his submission. When it was shown at the Armory Show in New York in 1913, the work gained critical opposition and his name and reputation became forever associated with it. In 1913, Duchamp began to abandon the traditional tools and techniques of painting, attempting to elevate art and the art making process above the purely visual and commercial. During this time, he came in contact with the writing of obscure German philosopher Max Stirner, who believed that the right of an individual was to be held supreme, considered above and beyond the needs of society. It is believed that Duchamp took that notion and applied it to the art object, investigating the possibility of making works of art that were not motivated by aesthetic conditions. It was during this time that he created "Bicycle Wheel," a work created from an inverted bicycle wheel mounted to the seat of a stool. This was one of the first of what he referred to as a "ready-made," a work of art that is deemed so simply through the selection of the artist. In 1915, Duchamp created "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even" (1915-1923) comprised of two large sheets of painted glass in two sections. The "Bride," an anthropomorphic shape, is confined to he top section, and "the bachelors," a composite machine made from a glider and a chocolate grinder at the bottom. The work explores themes of sexual opposition, geometry, physics, and the existing factors of chance. Accompanying the "Glass" was a large series of notes, to be consulted as a type of guide. During the teens and 1920s, Duchamp continued to create "ready-mades," giving them ambiguous titles. From 1923-1942, excluding brief trips to the USA, he remained in France where his interest in chess became increasingly more important than creating art. He maintained a low profile in the art world, even though he participated in various Dada and Surrealist exhibitions in Paris and New York. From 1942-1968, Duchamp lived in New York. For 22 years he worked on, and kept secret, his final work, "Etant donnés: 1 La Chute d'Eau, 2 La Gaz d' éclairage," a three-dimensional installation. Duchamp exerted little influence on the work of his contemporaries, but following the installation of his work in the Arensberg Collection in the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1954, he became a cult figure among the avant-garde, both in Europe and the USA. Subsequently, he has been seen as perhaps the most important figure to affect the shift towards conceptual art in the late 20th century.

Artist ID number in the Union List of Artist Names®: ULAN 500115393.
The ULAN link above leads to a cataloging authority record at the Getty Research Institute.

Objects related to Marcel Duchamp:

Marcel Duchamp Boîte-en-Valise, 1952 Leather- and cloth-covered box containing lithographic reproductions and various media
http://dac-collection.wesleyan.edu/art35756 is a persistent link to this page with no user-session information.

ULAN biographical content is displayed with permission of the Getty Research Institute. Some ULAN content in some DAC artist records has been lightly edited. Content from the Getty Research Institute is © 2019 The J. Paul Getty Trust. All rights reserved.

Featured Image Groups

Image from Rembrandt holdings
All Rembrandt Holdings

Image from Durer holdings
All Dürer with Images

Image from Faust

Image from Los Caprichos
Los Caprichos

Image from Metamorphoses