In summer 1913, French artist Marcel Duchamp spent a number of weeks in Herne Bay as a chaperone to his younger sister Yvonne, who was taking a course in English at Lynton College. 1913 was a significant year in Duchamp’s development as an artist and may be said to have marked a turning point in his work. We want to celebrate this centenary with a series of events in the town and are seeking support for this project, which may financial or ‘in kind’. We want your offers of help in any way you can contribute to create a buzz about Herne Bay and its influence on one of the twentieth century’s most exciting artists.
Marcel Duchamp’s Career and Influence
Marcel Duchamp (July 28, 1887 – October 2, 1968) was a French artist whose work and ideas have had a major influence on the development of post-World War II Western art. His advice to modern art collectors, particularly Peggy Guggenheim, helped shape the tastes of the Western art world. Duchamp was born in Normandy and was one of seven children, four of whom were successful artists.
He studied art at the Academie Julian from 1904 to 1905, living and working in a studio in Montparnasse, and his early works were Post-Impressionist in style.
Duchamp’s first work to provoke controversy was Nude Descending a Staircase No.2 (1912). The painting demonstrates the influences of Cubism and Futurism and was first submitted to appear at the Cubist Salon des Independants. But one of the jurists asked Duchamp’s brothers to persuade him to withdraw it and it was then submitted instead to The Armony Show in New York in 1913. The exhibition was officially named the International Exhibition of Modern Art, and was the first major exhibition of modern trends coming from Paris. Americans were scandalised by many of the works and particularly by Duchamp’s Nude.
It was shortly after his succès-de-scandale at The Armory Show that the now notorious artist arrived in Herne Bay with his sister Yvonne. During his stay in the town he made notes and sketches towards what would become one of his major works, known as The Large Glass.
Marcel Duchamp/Richard Hamilton
The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even [The Large Glass] (1915-1923; replica 1965-1966)
© Tate © Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2006
Oil, lead, dust and varnish on glass
Duchamp apparently made four drawings in Herne Bay, two of which, Pendu Femelle and Wasp, or Sex Cylinder, were deemed important enough to be included in Green Box (1934).
He also clipped a photograph from a leaflet showing the Grand Pier Pavilion illuminated at night, which was later attached to one of his most important notes describing a possible background for The Large Glass.
“An electric fête recalling the decorative lighting of Magic city or Luna Park, or the Pier Pavilion at Herne Bay….. The picture will be executed on two large sheets of glass about 1m 30 x 1,40 / one above the other.”
Although these notes are not dated, it is obvious they were written during or after Duchamp’s stay in Herne Bay and appear to be the first time this major work is described as a work on glass.
On his return to France, Duchamp developed the term ‘readymade’ or unaltered objects to refer to found objects chosen by the artist as art. He assembled the first readymade, Bicycle Wheel, in 1913 and created Bottle Rack the following year. This work from 1914 is considered to be the first pure readymade. After the declaration of war, Duchamp was exempted from military service and decided to leave Paris. He emigrated to New York in 1915 and quickly became friends with the artist Man Ray. His Fountain, a urinal, which he signed with the pseudonym R. Mutt, shocked the art world in 1917.
Marcel Duchamp was at the centre of all of the major artistic debates of his time, and although he came to be associated with a variety of avant-garde art forms, Duchamp always retained an inimitable individuality. His two great preoccupations were the nature of scientific truth and a feeling for love with its natural limit, death.
Another readymade from 1919 is L.H.O.O.Q., a cheap postcard-sized reproduction of the Mona Lisa, upon which Duchamp drew a mustache and a goatee, in one of the most well known acts of degrading a famous work of art. The title, when pronounced in French, puns the phrase ‘Elle a chaud au cul’, translating colloquially as ‘She has a hot ass’.
In 1923 Marcel Duchamp concluded work on his The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even which is now known as The Large Glass. He had been preparing notes and ideas for the piece for ten years. A number of articles have been written about how much inspiration for this work Duchamp may have found in Herne Bay. These are some of the most comprehensive
The following links to a film of Grayson Perry discussing Duchamp’s Fresh Widow, currently on display at the Tate Modern, with Times art critic Richard Cork.
Centenary Celebration – August 2013
August 2013 marks the hundredth anniversary of Duchamp’s stay in Herne Bay and we want to see this event marked in a variety of different ways. The town’s reputation as an artistic centre is growing, along with that of the whole North Kent Coast, and as part of this movement a Duchamp celebration would be a fantastic way to promote our vibrant town, during its busiest summer months. We think this will not only attract local attention but also draw visitors from the rest of Kent, London and the South East as well as giving our town great positive publicity to rival that of our neighbours.
Our proposal is for a three week Duchamp celebration in Herne Bay in August. The last week of our celebration could coincide with the annual Herne Bay Festival and we may be able to share some events.
The festival is a year away but we are already gathering support from other community groups in the town as well as an endorsement from our Coastal Towns Manager for Canterbury City Council, Chris West.