The Alexina and Marcel Duchamp Papers are comprised of Marcel Duchamp's personal papers as well as published material documenting the artist and his work that were compiled and organized by his widow, Alexina Duchamp. The collection includes a large photograph collection documenting Duchamp's life from his boyhood in Blainville, France through his last years spent partially in New York City and Cadaques, Spain. The collection includes a small portion of his personal correspondence, notes for several autobiographical and topical lectures delivered primarily in the early 1960s, and various personal papers, including birth and marriage certificates, military papers, and visas. The collection also includes material generated by other individuals that further serve to document Duchamp's life and work, and that were retained by him and later, by his widow. This material includes transcripts of various interviews with Duchamp conducted between 1945 and 1966 and typescripts for various articles and books about Duchamp which were sent to him by their authors for his review and comment. In many cases, correspondence with these authors is also preserved. Finally, the collection includes ephemera and published articles on Duchamp, which were seemingly collected and organized primarily by his wife, Alexina Duchamp, as much of the material postdates Duchamp's death.
Perhaps more than any other artist of the twentieth century, the iconoclastic ideas and work of Marcel Duchamp shaped the course of modern and contemporary art in the United States and Europe. French American artist Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp was born in Blainville, near Rouen, France on July 28, 1887 to Justin-Isidore (Eugène) Duchamp and his wife, Marie-Caroline-Lucie Nicolle. Duchamp had five siblings, including three artists: painter Jacques Villon (born Gaston Duchamp, 1875), the sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon (born Raymond Duchamp, 1876), and the painter Suzanne Duchamp (born 1889). Marcel Duchamp briefly studied painting at the Académie Julien in Paris. In 1905, he completed a year of voluntary military service. Following his discharge, he returned to Paris, where he painted and produced cartoons for "Le Courrier Français" and "Le Rire."
By 1911, Duchamp was working in a Cubist style and began incorporating sexual mechanical symbolism, biomorphism, and motion into such works as "Coffee Mill" and "Sad Young Man in a Train." The following year, he completed his best known painting, "Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2," which he withdrew from the March 1912 Salon des Indépendants in protest against criticism from the hanging committee. The painting later caused a scandal at the 1913 Armory Show in New York (traveled to Boston and Chicago), the first exhibition devoted to European modernism in the United States, where it was described by one critic as depicting an "explosion in a shingle factory." As a result, Duchamp became famous in the United States while remaining relatively obscure in Europe. During July and August of 1912, Duchamp traveled to Munich, where he painted "The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride" and "The Bride," and executed the first drawing on the theme of "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors."
With the outbreak of World War I and his exemption from military service due to a mild heart condition, Duchamp found France to be inhospitable and in 1915 departed for New York, where he remained until 1918. While in the United States, Duchamp lived first with Walter and Louise Arensberg at 33 W. 67th Street, and later in a studio above their apartment. Walter Pach had introduced Duchamp to the Arensbergs upon his arrival, and they became instant and lifelong friends. In addition, the Arensbergs became Duchamp's greatest patrons, assembling the preeminent collection of his works that they presented to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1950. In exchange for rent, the Arensbergs eventually acquired ownership of "The Large Glass," which they later transferred to Katherine Dreier.
Following the United States entry into World War I in 1917, Duchamp departed for Buenos Aires. During his nine-month stay in Argentina, Duchamp completed his study on glass, "To Be Looked at with One Eye, Close to, for Almost an Hour," worked on drawings for "The Large Glass," and played chess avidly. In June 1919, Duchamp sailed for France and once there, became associated with the Paris Dada group, which included André Breton, Louis Aragon, Paul Eluard, Tristan Tzara, Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, and others. During this time, he produced "L.H.O.O.Q.", a postcard of Leonardo's Mona Lisa "rectified" with goatee and mustache, perhaps his work most frequently identified with the Dada movement.
In 1922, Duchamp returned to New York to continue work on "The Large Glass," which the Arensbergs had transferred to Katherine Dreier in the previous year, shortly before they moved to California. While in New York, Duchamp designed the layout for "Some French Moderns Says McBride," an anthology of art critic Henry McBride's writings published by the Société Anonyme. Over the next 45 years Duchamp continued to create a variety of design projects, including exhibitions, books, and posters. In January 1923, Duchamp signed "The Large Glass," having brought it to a state of "incompletion." Shortly thereafter, he returned to Paris, where he remained until 1942 except for occasional trips around Europe and brief visits to New York in 1926-1927, 1933-1934, and 1936.
Despite pursuing chess professionally, Duchamp kept his hand in the art world. He participated in the organization of several exhibitions, including the 1926-1927 International Exhibition of Modern Art at the Brooklyn Museum, which included his "The Large Glass." The work was broken during its return to Dreier's Connecticut home, and Duchamp spent a month repairing it in 1936. Duchamp also earned money through the speculative purchase and sale of works of arts, including several on behalf of the Arensbergs. In 1927, for example, he purchased in conjunction with Roché a large number of works by his close friend Constantin Brancusi from the John Quinn estate. In June of that year, Duchamp married Lydie Sarazin-Levassor, whom he divorced a few months later. The marriage was a short and temporary disruption in his nearly twenty-year relationship with Mary Reynolds, an American widow who moved to Paris in the early 1920s where she became skilled in the art of bookbinding.
Work on the Box, like Duchamp's life itself, was complicated by the outbreak of World War II. He departed Paris in late May 1940 just weeks ahead of the Nazi Occupation. He and Mary Reynolds spent the summer in Arcachon in the Occupied Zone with Suzanne and Jean Crotti, and returned to Paris in September. Around that time, Duchamp began planning to immigrate to New York. Because of complications with his visa, the process took nearly two years, and required the help of many friends including Katherine Dreier, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., and Walter Arensberg. In the meantime, he received a permanent pass for the "free zone" as a cheese merchant, and surreptitiously transferred the Box components from his rue Larrey studio that he had occupied since 1926 to Marseilles, from where they were eventually shipped to New York.
During the 1940s and early 1950s, Duchamp served as editorial advisor for several issues of "VVV," and designed the cover for the Marcel Duchamp (March 1945) issue of "View" magazine. He collaborated with Breton, Sidney Janis, and Raymond A. Parker on the catalog and exhibition of "First Papers of Surrealism," sponsored by the Coordinating Council of French Relief Societies, and designed an installation for this exhibition using a mile of string. He participated in the filming of the surrealist movie by Hans Richter, "Dreams That Money Can Buy." In the fall of 1946, Duchamp visited Paris, where he and Breton designed and prepared the exhibition "Le Surréalisme en 1947" at the Galerie Maeght. Following his December return to New York, Duchamp in collaboration with Enrico Donati designed the exhibition's catalog, and hand-colored 999 foam-rubber "falsies" labeled "Prière de Toucher," for the deluxe edition. He also collaborated with Breton on window installations at Brentano's and the Gotham Book Mart. Also during this time, Duchamp began to fabricate "Etant donnés: 1º la chute d'eau, 2º le gaz d'éclairage," his last major work. The majority of the work, completed in secret between 1946 and 1966, was carried out in Duchamp's top-floor studio at 210 West 14th Street, which he had taken in 1943.
On January 16, 1954, Duchamp married Alexina (Teeny) Sattler, who had previously been married to art dealer Pierre Matisse, the son of Henri Matisse. Alexina was born in Cincinnati on January 6, 1906 to ophthalmologist Robert Sattler and his second wife, Agnes Mitchell, and studied sculpture for a while in Paris and Vienna. With his marriage to Alexina, Duchamp acquired a new family of three stepchildren, Paul, Jacqueline and Peter. In December of that year, Duchamp became a naturalized United States citizen. Around 1958, the couple began spending summers in Cadaqués, Spain, on the Costa Brava, and in 1959, they moved their permanent residence from 327 East 58th Street to 28 West 10th Street, where they remained until Duchamp's death.
He also received an increasing number of honors and accolades. In 1960, he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the following year, he received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Wayne State University. In 1963, Duchamp had his first major retrospective exhibition, "By or of Marcel Duchamp and/or Rrose Sélavy," at the Pasadena Art Museum, organized by Walter Hopps. A major one-man exhibition, "Not Seen and/or Less Seen of/by Marcel Duchamp/Rrose Sélavy 1904-64," at Cordier Ekstrom Gallery, New York followed two years later. His first major European retrospective came in 1966 with "The Almost Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp," organized by Richard Hamilton at the Tate Gallery, London. In 1963, Ulf Linde created replicas of several of Duchamp's Readymades, and, the following year, Duchamp authorized Arturo Schwarz to produce thirteen Readymades each in a regular edition of eight. In 1967, Cordier Ekstrom Gallery published "A l'infinitif," a limited boxed edition of seventy-nine unpublished notes dating from 1912 to 1920, reproduced in facsimile.
Following Duchamp's death, Alexina Duchamp moved to Villiers-sous-Grez, near Paris, where she assembled an archive of photographs and other material documenting the life and work of her late husband. She maintained a close friendship with many of Duchamp's friends, including Jasper Johns, Richard Hamilton, composer John Cage, and choreographer Merce Cunningham. Alexina Duchamp died on December 20, 1995 at the age of 89.