Karlie Repp & Sharan Jayachandran

The early life of Marcel Duchamp influenced his work and thinking greatly. He is best known for his unconventional methods of creating art, and the variety of styles, ideas and thought that influences his pieces.

Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp

“I force myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.”

“All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.” 1957

“I don’t care about the word ‘art’ because it has been so discredited. So I want to get rid of it. There is an unnecessary adoration of ‘art’ today.” 1966

Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp was born on July 28th, 1887 in Normandy, France. His birth name was Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp. His father was a notaire (public figure), and his family lived a lavish life in an extravagant house. His grandfather excelled both at art and business and he had six siblings and they were all interested and involved in art, music, and literature. Chess was a favorite in the Duchamp household.

The four oldest children of the family became artists. Gatson, the oldest, studied law but turned to painting, under the name Jacques Villon. Second-born Raymond trained in medicine and became a sculptor. Suzanne Duchamp wasn't allowed any formal training, but became a painter. Before Marcel Duchamp's 17th birthday, he announced his plans to become a painter as well.

Duchamp went to study painting at the Academie Julian with his brothers in Paris until 1905. He preferred playing billiards to attending his classes. It was at this time that he was influenced by Cezanne, Symbolism, Fauvism, Cubism, and popular illustration. He made a few cartoons that he sold to magazines in Paris. His early works were mostly Post-Impressionist, and were exhibited in Paris in 1909.

Duchamp and his brothers started a discussion group with other writers and artists, known as the Puteaux Group, in 1911. The group’s work was considered Orphic Cubism, or Orphism, named after Apolinaire's Orpheus, and its theory. The work sought to use color pure color harmonies to evoke rhythms in the universe. Many in the group gave up on this method after a few years and turned to Futurism.

One of Duchamp's "Ready-Mades" called 'Fountain'
One of Duchamp's "Ready-Mades" called 'Fountain'

Duchamp's tie was divided between his art and chess. He was considered one of the best chess players in France and even competed in four Olympic tournaments. In 1911, he painted "The Chess Players," a Cubist piece that featured two people playing chess, in multiple views, with a few shaped that look like chess pieces in the middle. He also shows the players in different positions, showing time passage. He was showing the minds of these players, weighing their options and waiting for the other to make their moves, which made people believe he was trying to depict the intangible: the complexity of chess. Later, in 1923, Duchamp practically stopped making art claiming to be a victim of chess. He explained, "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."

In 1912 he painted "Nude descending a Staircase, No.2" that captured continuous movement. After 1915, he didn't paint much but continued his work until 1923 with "The Bride stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even", an abstract piece.

In 1917, Duchamp’s infamous "Fountain" was presented to the world, bringing to light one of his most influential ideas to Modern art. He called these Ready-Mades, which were everyday objects such as the urinal he used in fountain. He was more interested in ideas than aesthetics.
In a 1966 interview, he stated “My idea was to choose an object that wouldn’t attract me either by its beauty or by its ugliness. To find a point of indifference in my looking at it. You might say I found any number of those. But at the same time, not so much because it’s sort of difficult, after a while, when you look at something, it becomes very interesting and you can even like it. And the minute I liked it I would discard it.”

In 1955, Duchamp became an American citizen. He later went back to France and died in Paris on October 1st, 1968. He forever changed the world of art, with his new way of thinking and conceptual works.


"Marcel Duchamp - Biography." Marcel Duchamp. The European Graduate School, Web. 6 Oct. 2012. <http://www.egs.edu/library/marcel-duchamp/biography/>.

"Marcel Duchamp - Quotes." Marcel Duchamp. The European Graduate School, Web. 8 Oct. 2012. <http://www.egs.edu/library/marcel-duchamp/quotes/>.

Stafford, Andrew. "Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp." Making Sense of Marcel Duchamp, Web. 4 Oct. 2012. <http://www.understandingduchamp.com/text.html>.