Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp. Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (1912). Oil on canvas. 57 7/8" x 35 1/8". Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Marcel Duchamp (28 July 1887 – 2 October 1968) was a French artist whose work is most often associated with the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. Considered by some to be one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Duchamp’s output influenced the development of post-World War I Western art. He advised modern art collectors, such as Peggy Guggenheim and other prominent figures, thereby helping to shape the tastes of Western art during this period.

Duchamp challenged conventional thought about artistic processes and art marketing, not so much by writing, but through subversive actions such as dubbing a urinal art and naming it Fountain. He produced relatively few artworks, while moving quickly through the avant-garde circles of his time.

The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.

Duchamp’s first work to provoke significant controversy was Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 (Nu descendant un escalier n° 2) (1912). The painting depicts the mechanistic motion of a nude, with superimposed facets, similar to motion pictures. It shows elements of both the fragmentation and synthesis of the Cubists, and the movement and dynamism of the Futurists.

He first submitted the piece to appear at the Cubist Salon des Indépendants, but jurist Albert Gleizes asked Duchamp’s brothers to have him voluntarily withdraw the painting, or to paint over the title that he had painted on the work and rename it something else. Duchamp’s brothers did approach him with Gleizes’ request, but Duchamp quietly refused. Of the incident Duchamp later recalled, “I said nothing to my brothers. But I went immediately to the show and took my painting home in a taxi. It was really a turning point in my life, I can assure you. I saw that I would not be very much interested in groups after that.”

He later submitted the painting to the 1913 “Armory Show” in New York City. The exhibition was officially named the International Exhibition of Modern Art, displayed works of American artists, and was also the first major exhibition of modern trends coming out of Paris. American show-goers, accustomed to realistic art, were scandalized, and the Nude was at the center of much of the controversy.

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3 Comments on “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 by Marcel Duchamp”

  1. awesome frank – thanks for sharing all your knowledge

  2. American critic: Explosion in a shingle factory.
    In fact: vanguard of cubism and modern art.
    Nice post.


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