Artist Portfolio: Marcel Duchamp

Duchamp and Motion

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

The first picture in which Duchamp expressly tried to represent motion was Sad Young Man in a Train (1911), whose four or five successive profiles jolting across the canvas from left to right suggest the image of a passenger on a moving train. The somber colors and black borders reflect Duchamp's mood at the time; he was about to leave for Munich to escape Paris' commercialized atmosphere--but would soon be disappointed to find Munich "just another art factory."

Motion is made much more explicit in Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 1 (1911). In this first version of his most famous painting, the artist clearly shows the inspiration provided by Jules Etienne Marey's chronophotographs, in which rapid-fire multiple exposures revealed the true dynamics of men and animals in motion. In Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912), Duchamp developed and refined still further the swirling lines and staccato arcs of dots that delineated the progress of this moving subject. Reaction to this painting among the Puteaux Cubists was immediate and violent, marking the end of Duchamp's formal affiliation with any group. And a year later, when it was exhibited in the New York Amory Show, American critics were equally hostile: they blasted the picture as "a collection of saddlebags," "leather, tin and broken violin," and a Chicago newspaper advised viewers to "eat three Welsh ragebits and sniff cocaine" if they wanted to understand the painting.

--from Tomkins, Calvin, The World of Marcel Duchamp (New York: Time, Inc., 1966), p. 26.



Duchamp's continuing interest in motion and optics led him in 1935 to produce a set of six round cardboard disks that he called Rotoreliefs. At rest, the disks appeared to be stamped with an abstract design, but when they were placed on a phonograph turntable and revolved, each design gave the illusion of a three-dimensional object--champagne glass, boiled egg in a cup, et cetera.

--Ibid, pp. 148 and 152-3.


Rotorelief No.1: Corolles

Rotorelief No.3: Lanterne chinoise

Rotorelief No.5: Poisson japonais,1935

Rotorelief No.7: Verre de Boheme

Rotorelief No.9: Montgolfiere

Rotorelief No.12: Spirale blanche,1935

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