Marcel Duchamp, 1923

Florine Stettheimer (1871–1944)
Oil on canvas, 1923

William Kelly Simpson

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Florine Stettheimer’s portrait of her friend Marcel Duchamp pictures the artist with his alter ego, Rrose Sélavy, who rises like a genie from a crank wound by the seated Duchamp. The symbols included in the portrait allude to aspects of Duchamp’s identity. The entwined French and American flags evoke Duchamp’s dual cultural alliances, while the knight symbolizes his love of chess and involvement in the Société Anonyme. Duchamp’s fascination with time and space is embodied in the clock that appears in the center of the composition.

Critic Henry McBride captured the essence of Stettheimer’s painting when he remarked that “the most complicated character in the whole contemporary range of modern art has been reduced to one transparent equation,” as Duchamp, in the guise of Rrose Sélavy, sits “perched aloft upon a Jack-in-the-Box contraption which he is surreptitiously manipulating to gain greater height for his apotheosis.”

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Listen to co-curator Anne Goodyear discuss this image: