Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase

Marcel Duchamp, a French painter, is one of the most intellectual modern artists. His work usually deals with context that is complex and requires a lot of thinking to figure out. He once said that “a painting that doesn’t shock isn’t worth painting,” and his work is definitely reflective of this. One of my favorite works by him, along with others, is Nude Descending a Staircase.

Duchamp was fascinated with the works of cinema and motion. One person who may have influenced Duchamp was Étienne-Jules Marey and his fascination with locomotion, which focused on procession of movement. One influence for Duchamp may have been Marey’s A Man Doing a High Jump image from 1892:

Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase shows a nude figure going through the motion of walking down a staircase. It’s interesting to see the way Duchamp takes a two dimensional canvas and not only does he add three dimensional features but also motion. Duchamp also uses very neutral and down to earth colors, which is what most analytical cubists used. Therefore, Duchamp was most likely influenced by the cubism; however, he also incorporated his own techniques since he visibly experiments with three dimensional aspects and motion. Lastly, the figure is also interesting because it is meant to represent a female but it’s slightly difficult to distinguish the gender at first.

Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, 1912

In addition, the figure appears rather mechanical, which reminds me of his brother’s, Raymond Duchamp, artwork. One of Raymond’s work, that I find similarity to with Duchamp’s Nude, is The Large Horse created in 1914:

Raymond Duchamp, The Large Horse, 1914

It’s unclear whether Duchamp was actually influenced by his brother’s work, but it is a possibility.

Additionally, recently I was at the Philadelphia Museum of Arts and I was fortunate enough to see Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 3) from 1916! This was made from an enlarged poster card image (that was the same size as his No. 2 oil painting). He then drew and painted directly onto the photo.


Feature Image from projectarm.com

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