Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2 – Smarthistory

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Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), 1912, oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 35 1/8 (151.8 x 93.3 cm) (Philadelphia Museum of Art)
Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), 1912, oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 35 1/8 (151.8 x 93.3 cm) (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) , 1912, oil on canvas, 57 7/Eight x 35 1/8 (151.Eight x 93.three cm) (Philadelphia Museum of Artwork)

When the French artist Marcel Duchamp arrived by ship to New York in 1915, his fame, because the saying goes, preceded him. Two years earlier, in 1913, after an inauspicious debut in France, Duchamp despatched his portray Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) to America. His now well-known depiction of a physique in movement strolling down a slim stairway shortly drew outrage from a public unfamiliar with present tendencies in European artwork, and have become a succès de scandale  (success from scandal) that launched Duchamp into the American highlight. However why was the portray so surprising?

The 1913 exhibition, dubbed “The Armory Present” for its set up in New York Metropolis’s 69th Regiment Armory, proposed to survey fashionable artwork from Romanticism of the early nineteenth-century to Cubism of the current.

Entrance to the New York City Armory Show, 69th Regiment Armory, New York City, 1913 (public domain)

Entrance to the New York Metropolis Armory Present, 69th Regiment Armory, New York Metropolis, 1913 (public area)

The group that organized the 1913 exhibition referred to as themselves the Affiliation of American Painters and Sculptors. The sprawling exhibition additionally included American artwork and little question the organizers hoped that they could promote the work of an American vanguard within the firm of illustrious European modernists. All that was shortly forgotten nonetheless, because it was Duchamp’s portray that captured consideration because the exhibition toured the nation. The Armory Present additionally had the unlucky impact of showcasing the provincialism of American artists who appeared to color as if nothing had modified for the reason that Realist and Impressionist actions of the nineteenth-century. Within the face of this realization, the American artist William Glackens , one of many exhibition’s organizers wryly lamented, “we have now not but arrived at a Nationwide Artwork.” 1

Detail, Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), 1912, oil on canvas, 57 7/8 x 35 1/8 (151.8 x 93.3 cm) (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Element, Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) , 1912, oil on canvas, 57 7/Eight x 35 1/8 (151.Eight x 93.three cm) (Philadelphia Museum of Artwork)

Because the exhibition toured the nation, Duchamp’s portray captured widespread consideration for its unconventional rendition of the nude. He positioned the determine — its upright stance reiterated by the vertical orientation of the canvas — in a descending diagonal from higher left to decrease proper. A tangle of shattered geometric shapes counsel the steps within the decrease left nook of the composition whereas rows of receding stairs on the higher left and proper body the unusually multiplying feminine type as she descends. However what a descent! The determine recollects the whirling of a robotic promenading down a set of stairs as if in some form of futurist film, or maybe a magic lantern present — a preferred type of picture projection within the years earlier than the event of cinema.

Robert Henri, Salome Dancer, 1909, oil on canvas, 77 x 37 inches / 195.6 x 94 cm (Mead Art Museum, Amherst College)

Robert Henri, Salome Dancer , 1909, oil on canvas, 77 x 37 inches / 195.6 x 94 cm ( Mead Artwork Museum, Amherst Faculty )

Duchamp’s portray was actually a far cry from what handed as fashionable portray in america at the moment. One of the crucial progressive actions was the Ashcan Faculty , whose members used gritty palettes in expressive renderings of metropolis avenue scenes, immigrant topics, and different city themes that appeared shockingly fashionable. Robert Henri’s Salome(left) for instance, reveals an actress striding throughout a slim stage in a quite brazen method. Her head tilts again as she gazes on the viewer and her palms sweep apart the folds of her skirt to disclose her legs. In distinction to Henri, Duchamp’s subject material is sort of indecipherable. His determine registers as feminine due to the conference, no less than in recent times, that expects most nudes in artwork to be ladies. Furthermore, the model was an excessive distortion of even probably the most up to date sort of realism on the time. It was, maybe, for these causes that the portray challenged audiences, such because the uncomprehending critic who described  Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2)  as “the explosion of a shingle manufacturing facility.” two


Like a lot European modernism (suppose  CubismFuturism  or  Orp hism ), the portray deserted any resemblance to nature. Its comparatively monochromatic palette of heat browns and ocher subtly tinged with a grayish blue-green is typical of early Cubist work by  Pablo Picasso  and  George Braque , who had needed to reduce the optical results of colour and emphasize, as a substitute, a revolutionary new conception of house. On this regard no less than,  Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2)  didn’t disappoint.

Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2)  didn’t waiver from its origins in Cubism. However, the weird sense of movement conveyed within the portray might replicate an extra affect within the pictures of Eadweard Muybridge  (beneath) or Étienne-Jules Marey, who had invented a digicam shutter in 1882 that allowed for an early model of time-lapse pictures . Discover how the determine approximates the blur one would possibly see with time-lapse imagery. Even painters of the Puteaux group [/ simple_tooltip], whom Duchamp had identified in France, disapproved (they have been serious about furthering the unique Cubist investigations into pictorial house and notion of Picasso and Braque). In Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) , Duchamp had welded a cubist model of shattered image planes to the sort of portray being completed by the Italian avant-garde motion Futurism, typified by Umberto Boccioni’s Distinctive Types of Continuity in House . The portray, because of this, is usually known as a Cubo-futurist work.

Eadweard Muybridge, Walking and Carrying at 15-lb. Basket on Head, Hands Raised, c. 1887, collotype, 16.8 x 41.8 cm (National Gallery of Art)

Eadweard Muybridge, Strolling and Carrying at 15-lb. Basket on Head, Fingers Raised, c. 1887, collotype, 16.Eight x 41.Eight cm (Nationwide Gallery of Artwork)

Nonetheless unresponsive the reception for  Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2)  was in France, it grew to become a charged image of the trendy in America. The feminine type had, in fact, suffered avant-garde assault for a while in Europe reaching way back to Manet’s Olympia (1863), which confirmed a nude feminine reclining throughout a flatly painted inside. Matisse and his followers had even additional abstracted the determineof their fauvist work. However in America, the lingering traces of the classical model with its idealizing varieties nonetheless prevailed even amongst extra up to date painters. Duchamp turned a venerable topic — the feminine nude, and all it embodied about western tradition and traditions of magnificence — into one thing monstrous and worse, one thing machine-like. As in his later readymades —which turned atypical industrial objects into artistic endeavors — Duchamp embraced the very factor artwork was purported to reject: the chilly logic of commercial manufacturing.

1 “The American Part The Nationwide Artwork, An Interview with The Chairman of the Home Committee, WMJ Glackens,” Arts And Ornament , vol. 2 (March 1913), p. 159.
2 Julian Avenue, “Why I grew to become a Cubist,” All people’s Journal 28, June, 1913 .

Extra assets:

This work on the Philadelphia Museum of Artwork

Marcel Duchamp on the Metropolitan Museum of Artwork’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Artwork Historical past

Readymade (Tate Glossary)

Dada and the Readymade from the Nationwide Gallery of Artwork

Freeze Body: Eadweard Muybridges’s Pictures of Movement from the Nationwide Museum of American Historical past

Dada on MoMAlearning

Calvin Tomkins, Duchamp: A Biography (New York: Henry Holt and Firm), 1996.

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