Duchamp, Marcel (1887-1968) – 1910 The Chess Game (Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA)
Marcel Duchamp was a French artist who broke down the boundaries between works of art and everyday objects. After the sensation caused by “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” (1912), he painted few other pictures. His irreverence for conventional aesthetic standards led him to devise his famous ready-mades and heralded an artistic revolution. Duchamp was friendly with the Dadaists, and in the 1930s he helped to organize Surrealist exhibitions. He became a U.S. citizen in 1955.
In 1911 Duchamp, the great iconoclast of 20th-century art, was still adhering to the conventions of easel painting, formal composition, narrative structure, and individual inspiration. His formative years were bracketed by studies at the Académie Julien in Paris in 1904–05 and participation in the artistic circle known as the Puteaux Group, which gathered at the home of his older brothers and fellow artists, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and Jacques Villon, after 1910. During this period, Duchamp moved rapidly through a succession of Modernist styles before renouncing painting altogether in 1913 in favor of an art that privileged the intellectual over the optical.
As artist and anti-artist, Marcel Duchamp is considered one of the leading spirits of 20th-century painting. With the exception of the “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2,” however, his works were ignored by the public for the greater part of his life. Until 1960 only such avant-garde groups as the Surrealists claimed that he was important, while to “official” art circles and sophisticated critics he appeared to be merely an eccentric and something of a failure. He was more than 70 years old when he emerged in the United States as the secret master whose entirely new attitude toward art and society, far from being negative or nihilistic, had led the way to Pop art, Op art, and many of the other movements embraced by younger artists everywhere. Not only did he change the visual arts but he also changed the mind of the artist.
Duchamp was an accomplished chess player and spent much time playing in his later years.
This painting depicts the artist’s brothers, Raymond Duchamp-Villon (on the left) and Jacques Villon (on the right), and their wives, Yvonne and Gaby, in the garden of Villon’s studio in the outskirts of Paris. The two men are shown hunched over a chessboard as they contemplate their next move, while their wives are excluded from the game. Yvonne lies semi-recumbent on the mint-green grass and Gaby nervously fingers a tea set in a scene of crushing boredom.