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Artists Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp Photo

Marcel Duchamp

French Painter and Sculptor

Movements and Styles: Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Conceptual Art

Born: July 28, 1887 - Normandy, France

Died: October 2, 1968 - Neuilly-sur-Seine, France

Marcel Duchamp Timeline


"I don't believe in art. I believe in artist."
Marcel Duchamp
"To all appearances, the artist acts like a mediumistic being who, from the labyrinth beyond time and space, seeks his way out to a clearing."
The Creative Act (1957)
"I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste."
Marcel Duchamp
"The individual, man as a man, man as a brain, if you like, interests me more than what he makes, because I've noticed that most artists only repeat themselves."
Marcel Duchamp
"[Art] is paradoxical. It is almost schizophrenic. On one side I worked from a very intellectual form of activity, and on the other de-deifying everything by more materialistic thoughts."
Marcel Duchamp
"When I discovered ready-mades I thought to discourage aesthetics. In Neo-Dada they have taken my ready-mades and found aesthetic beauty in them. I threw the bottle-rack and the urinal into their faces as a challenge and now they admire them for their aesthetic beauty."
1962 Letter to Hans Richter
"The readymade is the consequence of the refusal which made me say: There are so many people who make pictures with their hands, that one should end up not using the hand."
Marcel Duchamp
"I am still a victim of chess. It has all the beauty of art, and much more. It cannot be commercialized. Chess is much purer than art in its social position."
Marcel Duchamp

"You cannot define electricity. The same can be said of art. It is a kind of inner current in a human being, or something which needs no definition."

Marcel Duchamp Signature


Few artists can boast having changed the course of art history in the way that Marcel Duchamp did. By challenging the very notion of what is art, his first "readymades" sent shock waves across the art world that can still be felt today. Duchamp's ongoing preoccupation with the mechanisms of desire and human sexuality as well as his fondness for wordplay aligns his work with that of Surrealists, although he steadfastly refused to be affiliated with any specific artistic movement per se. In his insistence that art should be driven by ideas above all, Duchamp is generally considered to be the father of Conceptual art. His refusal to follow a conventional artistic path, matched only by a horror of repetition which accounts for the relatively small number of works Duchamp produced in the span of his short career, ultimately led to his withdrawal from the art world. In later years, Duchamp famously spent his time playing chess, even as he labored away in secret at his last enigmatic masterpiece, which was only unveiled after his death.

Key Ideas

Coined by Duchamp, the term "readymade" came to designate mass-produced everyday objects taken out of their usual context and promoted to the status of artworks by the mere choice of the artist. A performative act as much as a stylistic category, the readymade had far-reaching implications for what can legitimately be considered an object of art.
Duchamp rejected purely visual or what he dubbed "retinal pleasure," deeming it to be facile, in favor of more intellectual, concept-driven approaches to art-making and, for that matter, viewing. He remained committed, however, to the study of perspective and optics which underpins his experiments with kinetic devices, reflecting an ongoing concern with the representation of motion and machines common to Futurist and Surrealist artists at the time.
A taste for jokes, tongue-in-cheek wit and subversive humor, rife with sexual innuendoes, characterizes Duchamp's work and makes for much of its enjoyment. He fashioned puns out of everyday expressions which he conveyed through visual means. The linguistic dimension of his work in particular paved the way for Conceptual art.


Marcel Duchamp Photo


Marcel Duchamp was raised in Normandy, in a family of artists. His father was mayor of Blainville and his mother raised their seven children and painted landscapes depicting the French countryside. Family time was spent playing chess, reading, painting, and playing music. One of Marcel's earliest artworks, Landscape at Blainville (1902), painted at age fifteen, reflected his family's love of Claude Monet. Marcel was close to his two older brothers, and in 1904, after both had left home to become artists, he joined them in Paris to study painting at Académie Julian. His brother, Jacques Villon, supported him during his studies, and Marcel earned some income by working as a cartoonist. Duchamp's early drawings evince his ongoing interest in visual and verbal puns.

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Marcel Duchamp Biography Continues

Important Art by Marcel Duchamp

The below artworks are the most important by Marcel Duchamp - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Nude Descending A Staircase (1912)
Artwork Images

Nude Descending A Staircase (1912)

Artwork description & Analysis: Nude Descending A Staircase initially met with an unfavorable response at the Salon des Indépendants, dominated by the Cubist avant-garde who objected to what they deemed as its Futurist leanings, but enjoyed a succes de scandale at the 1913 Armory Show in New York. More than a study of the body's movement through space, the work is an early figurative exercise in painting cinematically, akin to Eadweard Muybridge's sequences of photographs that anticipated motion pictures. This painting together with the contemporaneous Passage from Virgin to Bride marks the end of Duchamp's short-lived career as a painter.

Oil on canvas - Philadelphia Museum of Art: Collection of Louise and Walter Arenberg

3 Standard Stoppages (1913-14)
Artwork Images

3 Standard Stoppages (1913-14)

Artwork description & Analysis: Art takes on a scientific guise in this intricate piece whose several component parts are neatly displayed alongside or slotted into a bespoke wooden case. To make this piece, which reads like a visual demonstration of the workings of chance, Duchamp dropped three threads, each exactly one meter long, from a height of one meter. He then carefully recorded the random outline of the fallen thread on canvas, glass and wood. Chance also dictated his choice of title: Duchamp apparently hit upon stoppages, French for the "invisible mending" of a garment, after walking past a shop sign advertising sewing supplies.

Mixed media - The Museum of Modern Art

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, or The Large Glass (1915-1923)
Artwork Images

The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, or The Large Glass (1915-1923)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, or The Large Glass was partly inspired by author Raymond Roussel's use of homophones, words that sound alike but have different meanings. Duchamp frequently resorted to puns and double-meanings in his work.With The Large Glass, he sought to make an artwork that could be both visually experienced and "read" as a text. After attending a performance of Roussel's Impressions d'Afrique, Duchamp envisioned a sculptural assemblage as a stage of sorts. Preliminary studies for this stage, which would have been over nine feet tall, included depictions of an abstracted "bride" being attacked by machine-like figures in chaotic motion. The constructed gadgetry featured between the two glass panels was also likely inspired by Duchamp's study of mathematician Henri Poincare's physics theorems.

Mixed media - Philadelphia Museum of Art

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Marcel Duchamp
Interactive chart with Marcel Duchamp's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Alfred JarryAlfred Jarry
Édouard ManetÉdouard Manet
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse
Pablo PicassoPablo Picasso
Georges BraqueGeorges Braque

Personal Contacts

André BretonAndré Breton
Max ErnstMax Ernst
Man RayMan Ray
Guillaume ApollinaireGuillaume Apollinaire
Francis PicabiaFrancis Picabia



Influences on Artist
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
Years Worked: 1902 - 1968
Influenced by Artist


Andy WarholAndy Warhol
Jasper JohnsJasper Johns
Robert RauschenbergRobert Rauschenberg
Jeff KoonsJeff Koons
Damien HirstDamien Hirst

Personal Contacts

André BretonAndré Breton
Peggy GuggenheimPeggy Guggenheim
John CageJohn Cage
Clement GreenbergClement Greenberg


Pop ArtPop Art
Installation ArtInstallation Art
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art

Useful Resources on Marcel Duchamp

Special Features





artist features

Defining Modern Art

Take a look at the big picture of modern art, and Duchamp's role in it.

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Dialogues With Marcel Duchamp Recomended resource

By Pierre Cabanne

The Duchamp Effect

By Martha Buskirk, Mignon Nixon

Marcel Duchamp: Works, Writings, Inteviews

By Gloria Moure, Marcel Duchamp

Duchamp: A Biography Recomended resource

By Calvin Tomkins

More Interesting Books about Marcel Duchamp
Art Science Research Laboratory Recomended resource

Organization with 3 Duchamp-related initiatives including the Marcel Duchamp World Community and the Tout-Fait The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal


Marcel Duchamp's Work

At The Centre Pompidou

Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp

Anything Goes

By Matthew Collings
Time Magazine
February 27, 2008

Precision Optics/Optical Illusions

By Michael Betancourt
April, 2003

Face Value Recomended resource

By Blane Gopnik
Washington Post
April 7, 2009

The Shock of the New: Marcel Duchamp Recomended resource

By historian Robert Hughes

Marcel Duchamp and Hollow Laughter (This Is Modern Art series) Recomended resource

Part of 6 episodes on Modern Art by critic Matthew Collings

Marcel Duchamp, Anemic Cinema

Marcel Duchamp interviewed in 1966

More Interesting Videos with Marcel Duchamp
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