Alec Nevala-Lee: Marcel Duchamp's Turning Point





Alec Nevala-Lee is the author of "The Icon Thief," a suspense novel inspired by the work of Marcel Duchamp. He blogs at http://www.nevalalee.com.

One hundred years ago today, on March 18, 1912, two men dressed in black crossed the Seine in Paris to pay a call on their younger brother, an artist who lived alone in his studio on Rue Amiral-de-Joinville. Half a century later, the artist would vividly remember the dark clothes his brothers had worn that day, as if they had come to challenge him to a duel.

The visit, it seems, was brief. Once his brothers had departed, the artist locked up the house and took a taxi by himself to the Quai d'Orsay, where the Salon des Independants was scheduled to begin later that week. Upon his arrival, he retrieved a painting that he had entered into the exhibition, carried it out to the taxi and took it home. And in doing so, he changed the course of art history.

The artist was Marcel Duchamp, who was not yet 25. As for the painting, it was an oil on canvas, about 5 feet by 3 feet, or large enough that he would have had some trouble getting it into the taxi. He had painted it two months earlier, as a more fully realized version of a subject that he had attempted the previous year: the abstract image of what seems to be a nude human figure, or a series of outlines of the figure, walking down a flight of stairs....



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