France • 1887−1968

Biography and information

Marcel Duchamp (fr Marcel Duchamp, July 28, 1887; Blainville-Crevaux, France - October 2, 1968, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France) - French-American artist, one of the brightest representatives of Dadaism and surrealism. Duchamp became the first Dadaist in the United States and for a long time lived in two countries. It was in the States that he created his first ready-made. He was an enthusiastic chess player and repeatedly completely stopped practicing art in order to devote himself to chess. Despite the fact that his work can be counted on the fingers, Duchamp is considered one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.

Features of the artist Marcel Duchamp: in the early years he was engaged in traditional painting, but in modern styles. Duchamp was primarily interested in Fauvism and Cubism. However, shortly after moving to the United States, he presented to the public a work that changed the course of the history of art - a porcelain urinal, signed in the name of a non-existent person. Red-maids of Duchamp (ready-made objects, moved by the artist’s will from the world of ordinary things to the world of artistic images) were most often subjected to minimal interference from his side, but mysteriously turned into works of art.

Famous works of Marcel Duchamp: "Fountain", "Nude, descending the stairs", "The Bride Stripped By Her Bachelors (Large Glass)", "LHOOQ".

The greatest love of Marcel Duchamp was not art. It was chess. He could throw creative work for many years, spending all his free time at the chessboard, and then suddenly appeared with another shocking piece. Having the public effect due, Duchamp with peace of mind again hid in the shadows. Mathematical mentality and amazing luck allowed the artist to make rare, but precisely calibrated moves to stay on the ear and at the same time to live in his pleasure. Duchamp earned very little through his own work, mostly living at the expense of generous patrons. He could spend a dozen years to create a single art object. He avoided contact with the press and did not chase cheap popularity. His whole life was like one big chess game, which he spent brilliantly and, of course, won.

Family traditions

Marcel Duchamp didn’t have many chances to take a different path in life. His maternal grandfather was an artist and engraver, whose numerous works surrounded Marcel from birth. The boy's mother was an amateur artist, depicting mostly rural landscapes. The older brothers Duchamp, Jacques and Reymond, and the younger sister Suzanne also chose the creative path, and Marcel had no choice but to follow the family tradition. Interestingly, at an early age, in addition to his artistic ability, the boy also displayed a remarkable mathematical talent; he even won several prizes in both these areas. However, Marcel made the first unexpected move in his life, deciding not to choose anything. He continued painting and transformed his mathematical gift into a love for chess.

The first teacher of painting tried to protect Marseille and all his charges from the "pernicious influence" of impressionism, post-impressionism and other avant-garde movements in painting. However, Duchamp surprisingly managed to skip these instructions past the ears. In fact, his real teacher was brother Jacques Villon, who himself was in search of an individual style and supported Marcel's similar desire. Already at the age of 14, Duchamp created many drawings, watercolors, and impressionistic oil paintings with landscapes and portraits of his sister, Susanna.

In the early 1900s, Marseille, following his older brothers, went to Paris. But in the famous Academy of Julian, he studied for a year. They said that Duchamp spent much more time playing billiards than studying. After that, he begins to make a living as a cartoonist. Most of his then works were built not only on visual jokes, but also on the play on words. Duchamp will use this technique in the future, when he begins to create ready-made ones.

Paris of the early twentieth century was an ideal place for Duchamp. The artistic life here never for a second stopped in its place, it almost every day gave birth to something new. A new generation of artists constantly tested the strength of the borders of art, transforming it into previously unknown forms. Here Marcel met Cubists and future Dadaists, made friends with the poet and art critic Guillaume Apollinaire (who brutally defeated Duchamp’s early works, calling them “ugly naked”) and avant-garde artist Francis Picabia.

Boundaries of what is permitted

Marcel Duchamp’s real artistic breakthrough and at the same time the culmination of his career as a painter was the very controversial canvas Nude Going Down the Stairs (1912). It turned out that the picture may be too avant-garde, even for Cubists. Duchamp was going to present the canvas for the first time at the Cubist Salon of the Independent in 1912. However, the organizers of the Salon asked the artist’s older brothers to convince him either to rename the painting or to completely remove it from the exhibition. Upon learning of this, Duchamp removed the "Nude" from the wall and took it home by taxi. From this point on, he will ask two main questions to society (including through his works): what is considered acceptable in art and who has the right to decide this? At the same time, he said, he decided no longer to join any of the artistic movements.

Since the beginning of World War I, Duchamp was becoming more and more uncomfortable in Paris, and he turned his gaze across the ocean. Several of his works at that time were already bought by collectors from the United States, and when in 1915 the artist came to New York, he was surprised to find himself very famous in the States. But real success fell on him in 1917, when the world saw his first ready-made. A ceramic urinal, turned upside down at an unusual angle, called the “Fountain” and signed by the pseudonym R.Mutt, has been the subject of much controversy, severe criticism and conjecture. However, Duchamp was able to prove that absolutely any object can be inscribed in the history of art, that he does not necessarily have to respond to any special canons in order to reflect the artist’s vision and influence the viewer. Now "Fountain" is considered one of the most influential works of art in the world.

After the end of the war, Duchamp will live from time to time in New York, then in Paris. According to one of the legends, during the Second World War he even pretended to be a cheese merchant in order to freely export creative materials from occupied France, and never aroused suspicion.

Marcel Duchamp never particularly sought to remain on the heels of the public and art critics. He could easily afford to disappear altogether from the art scene for several years and devote all his free time to playing chess. And sometimes he could for many years meticulously work on a single piece. The monumental work with the intricate title “Bride, stripped of her bachelors, one in two faces (Large glass)” Duchamp created from 1915 to 1923. Among other things, it included three-dimensional reproductions of the artist’s early paintings. "Bride" (1912) and "Mill for chocolate" (1914), fixed between two huge pieces of glass. After the very first exhibition, one of the glasses cracked during transportation, but Duchamp did not replace it, making these cracks part of the work of art.

The last 25 years of his life Duchamp spent away from the world of art. At least he managed to convince everyone of this. In fact, between 1946 and 1966, he secretly worked on another large-scale work, which, according to his will, was shown to the public only after the artist’s death. The work entitled “This” is presented at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, it has never left and will not leave its walls. The fact is that “This” is a massive door embedded in a wall, behind which is a diorama with a naked woman lying on the grass, a kerosene lamp and a waterfall (1, 2). Only one spectator at a time can see the work, but for that he will have to put himself in a very uncomfortable position as a voyeur peeping through a keyhole. It is logical that during his life Duchamp did not comment on this secret work. We can say that it was his last joke, the last mystery, the exact answer to which will never be found.

Double game

The personal life of Marcel Duchamp has always been a secret behind seven seals. He rarely spoke to journalists at all, and even when he condescended to an interview, he could talk endlessly about art and chess, but he categorically refused to talk about himself personally. For a long time it was only known that the artist was married twice. But one day his first spouse Lydia Sarazen-Levassor released memoirs in which she told all the details of their short life together.

When they met, Lydia was barely 24, and Marcel was soon to hit 40. They were met by a close friend of Duchamp Francis Picabia and his then beloved, rather powerful figure in the Dadaist movement Germain Everling. Lydia, very far from the world of art, was intrigued by the fact that a middle-aged man who wants to settle down and have a family cannot find a wife on her own and uses the help of friends.

The novel developed rapidly. Lydia and Marseille met in March 1927, and were married in early June. Shortly after the wedding, Duchamp rented an apartment, which was supposed to be their family nest, but literally the next day after the move, it turned out that the artist was set up for a guest marriage. He preferred to spend time in his studio and playing chess with friends, only occasionally visiting his wife. He constantly told Lydia that family ties are a fiction and "relic of the Middle Ages." Romantic love, he said, did not exist either, and sex was no more important than dinner for two. Duchamp said that he would not mind if she had gotten herself a lover, because "a little experience would not hurt her." This strange marriage lasted only six months. Even then, evil tongues asserted that Marseille married Lydia by pure calculation, since she was the daughter of a large automobile magnate.

By the way, there is a legend, according to which Lydia was so jealous of the artist for playing chess, that once she glued all his chess pieces to the board.

The second wife of Duchamp, Aleksina (Tini) Sattler, did not write memoirs, so practically nothing is known about their life together. Her first husband was art dealer Pierre Matisse, the youngest son of the artist Henri Matisse. She met Aleksina Duchamp in New York, they got married in January 1954 and were together until the artist’s death. Spouses together cruised between New York and Paris, sometimes spending the summer in Spain. And besides the love of art, they were also united by their passion for chess.

Author: Evgenia Sidelnikova