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Robert-Marcel Duchamp was born July 28th, 1887, near Blainville, France. He was one of six children born to Justin-Isidore and Marie-Caroline-Duchamp, four of which pursued careers in art despite the heated disapproval of their father. Nevertheless, Marcel had an artist precedent in Emile-Frederic-Nicolle, a maternal grandfather who painted and made prints (American Decades). Â In the beginning, as a boy in the 1890's, he was surrounded by art-and by artist; his grandfather as we mentioned, two brothers, and a sister were all artist. His childhood home was filled with seascapes, landscapes and etchings by his grandfather. When he was fifteen, Duchamp painted in the Impressionistic style, as witnessed by a painting from 1902, “Church at Blainville,” inspired by reproductions he had seen of the works of Claude Monet (International Dictionary). Also at 15, Duchamp painted his first oil, Landscape at Blainville, 1902. "When you see so many paintings," said Duchamp, "you've got to paint." In 1904, at the age of 17, he resolved to become an artist. He could not have chosen a more exciting time. Paris was reverberating from the first Cezanne retrospective show; Matisse was experimenting with the vivid colors that would soon give birth to Fauvism; a few years later, Picasso and Braque would create Cubism (Tomkins 16). No one knew at the time that he would become one of the most influential and controversial artists of the 20th Century.
In 1904, Duchamp was graduated from the Ecole Boussuert in Rouenand moved to Paristo join his brothers. Like most young artist, Duchamp began by painting the subjects closest to him-his family and friends. It can best be seen in the captivating watercolor portraits of his sisters that he had a good grasp of conventional techniques. He received his only formal training at the Academie Julian in Paris, a sort of preparatory studio for the Ecole des Beaux - Arts. But he despised the academic atmosphere and dropped out after 18 months to pursue his own taste. He made a meager living in these years, through contacts from his brothers, selling cartoons for publication in Parisian magazines, including Le Rire and Le Courier francais (Authors and Artists). He also worked as a librarian for some time.
When he painted a portrait of his father he had adopted Cezanne's planar color construction, a dynamic restructuring of landscapes and the human form that was to lead to Cubism. He was also experimenting with Fauvism, the art of the "wild beasts." Like Matisse, the pioneer of Fauvism, Duchamp had no qualms about adopting arbitrary colors (Tomkins 18). Â Duchamp’s first artistic works, according to Atlantic writer Kenneth Baker, were “facile but undistinguished Post-impressionist” paintings. “The Artist’s Father,” for example, which Duchamp exhibited in the 1910 Salon d’Automne, strongly reflects the influence of Paul Cezanne. Another work from this same time, “Chess Game,” shows his brothers and their wives relaxing in the garden of their home in aParis suburb. The painting does not only incorporate Cezanne’s brush-stroke technique, but also displays the vibrant colors of the Fauvist painters (Authors and Artists). Duchamp was an avid chess player as a child and thorough out his life later being Named Chess Champion by Haute Normandie (France), 1924; winner of Paris Chess Tournament, 1932 (Authors and Artists).
Duchamp became interested in machine forms and the representation of movement in the static terms of painting.” This interest was evident in his 1911 painting “Nude Descending a Staircase,” which employed cubism’s geometry and subtle tones. Exhibited in the 1911 Salon des Independents, “Nude Descending a Staircase” caused such a fury that Duchamp’s brothers asked him to withdraw from the show (Authors and Artists).Â In 1913 a second version of the painting, “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2″ Â was displayed at the Armory Show in New York which caused cries of dismay and was even seen as the ultimate Cubist madness. The painting, once described as "an explosion in a shingle factory," has remained an inspiration to artists who use repetition and rhythm to express motion (Frank, 397-398). Duchamp’s work continued to attract both praise and criticism, and by late 1913 he was searching for greater freedom of artistic expression than that allowed by either cubism or futurism (Authors and Artists). After 1912, Duchamp would paint only a few more canvases. He was growing increasingly disillusioned with what he called "retinal" art - art that appeared only to the eye - he wanted to create a new kind of art, one which would engage the mind (Stafford).
Duchamp stirred public controversy again in 1917 when he submitted a ready-made porcelain urinal–turned upside down and signed R. Mutt–for exhibition by the Society of Independent Artists, of which he had been a founding member. After 1918 Duchamp gave up painting completely but continued to produce a variety of collages, sketches, and machine-constructions, much of which he signed Rose Selavy–the name of the female alter-ego he had created for himself (Authors and Artists). Bicycle Wheel was the first of a class of objects called his "readymades." He created twenty-one of them between 1915 and 1923 (Stafford). In 1920 Duchamp exhibited his “Mona Lisa,” a ready-made aided with mustache and goatee, which he called “L.H.O.O.Q.”; roughly translated, the initials stand for “she is hot in the pants.”(Authors and Artists). Three years later, at the age of thirty-six, Duchamp formally retired as an artist. Following retirement Duchamp devoted much of his time to chess playing, an avid interest since his childhood. He found chess to be “purer, socially, than painting,” he told Chanin. Considered by experts to be a good match, Duchamp reached a level of proficiency that allowed him to enter championship competitions. At that point, however, he chose to stop playing in public Although he was no longer publicly producing art, Duchamp remained active in the art world as a dealer for other artists, a consultant to collectors, and an organizer of exhibits. Additionally, he continued to study and experiment in perspective and optics, an interest he started as early as 1918 (Authors and Artists).
Duchamp worked on his most monumental piece, The Large Glass, for eight years until 1923, when he abandoned it in what he called a "definitively unfinished" state. Years later a network of cracks was accidentally added when it shattered while being moved (Stafford). His twenty canvases and glass panels, sold to friends during his lifetime, found their way by bequest as he wished to the Philadelphia Museum, where is concentrated the greatest collection of his works. It comprises the material evidence of a genius who, more than any other recognized the self-contained capacity of mundane objects to be exploited for publicity purposes, and for altering outworn interpretations of art in a context of changing social and philosophical standards (International Dictionary of Art and Artists). By 1914, as a result of the war, the political and cultural landscape was changed forever. Governments assumed new powers to mobilize people and material, to dictate economic life, to censor public expression, and by controlling information, to manipulate the way people thought. Writers, photographers, and artists were prevented by the government and the self-censoring press from communicating the horror of the war. It was not until after the war had ended that those artists and writers who survived were able to express their perceptions of the catastrophe that shaped the world (Frank, 399). As Canaday suggested, it was perhaps “the insane spectacle of World War I” that ultimately turned Duchamp “away from the rational processes of cubism . . . and led him to the anarchic movement of Dada.” (Authors and Artists). Dada began in protest against the horrors of World War I as an assault on corrupt values by an international group of young artist and writers. In the eyes of the Dadaists, the destructive absurdity of war was caused by traditional, narrow-minded values, which they set out to overturn (Frank, 399). To make a new beginning, the Dadaists rejected most moral, social, political, and aesthetic values. They thought it was pointless to try and find order and meaning in a world in which so-called rational behavior had produced only chaos and destruction. They sought to shock art viewers into seeing the absurdity of the Western world's social and political situation. For Marcel Duchamp, mechanically produced things were a reservoir of unselfconscious art objects. In his view, a reproduction of the MONA LISA was a ready-made object, in the same class as bicycle wheels, kitchen stools, and snow shovels. L.H.O.O.Q. is an "assisted readymade" by Duchamp, expressing his view that art had become simply a precious commodity. He poked fun with his "corrections," a penciled moustache and goatee and a new title. The unusual title is a vulgar pun in French, loosely translated in English it reads, "She has a hot tail." Duchamp's outrageous irreverence towards one of the world's most revered paintings was an attempt to shake people out of their unthinking acceptance of dominant values (Frank, 400).
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Reproduced in Biography Resource Center., 2010.
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Reproduced in Biography Resource Center.Farmington Hills,Mich.: Gale, 2010.
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