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Marcel Duchamp (French, 1887-1968)


Also known as:  Sélavy, Rrose

Birth Place: Blainville-Crevon (Seine-Maritime, Département de la, Haute-Normandie, France)

Marcel Duchamp was born in 1887 in France and is known for being a leader of what is now considered the modern art movement, along with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. His unique way of depicting figures, as well as his interest in a variety of media, made him both memorable and sometimes controversial.

Marcel Duchamp attended school in Rouen, France, and grew up drawing and painting watercolors. He also enjoyed cartoons and began experimenting with oil painting at 14. A stint in the military at the early part of the 20th Century taught him typography and printing.

His brother, Jacques, was an established artist and helped him gain recognition by granting him access to exhibit at the Academie Royale de Peinture et du Sculpture. Early on, Duchamp broke away from so-called "retinal" art (meant simply to please the eye) and began painting in a more Cubist style, breaking up images of people and objects as if they were composed of shards of glass. He shunned, however, affiliation with any particular painting style, and his work throughout his career remained difficult to categorize.

In the years preceding the First World War, Duchamp became fascinated with expressing movement in the subjects of his paintings. Two of his most well known works, Sad Young Man on a Train (1911) and Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912) are perfect examples of this interest. The latter was controversial both because no one knew exactly how to group it for exhibition and because in the US, it was a shocking deviation from more realistic art.

Duchamp immigrated to the United States in 1915, where he quickly became a celebrity and friend of many avant-garde artists and patrons. He created the Societe Anonyme in 1920, along with Man Ray, and became involved in art dealing and collecting.

He continued to produce two-dimensional and kinetic art, poetry and art manifestos, among other works, including "Readymades," found objects turned into art. A prime example of this is his L.H.O.O.Q. (1919), a parody of the Mona Lisa with mustache and goatee.

Ducamp remained involved in the art world until his death in 1968, although he spent many of his later years obsessed with playing chess. His final major work was Etant donnes, composed over 20 years between 1946 and 1966.

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