Marcel Duchamp

French / American (1887 - 1968)
Marcel Duchamp La Boîte-en-Valise [Box in a Suitcase] 1935 - 1941 © Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018. © Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018. © Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020 © Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2018.


Born 1887
Died 1968
Nationalities French
Birth place Blainville-Crevon
Death place Neuilly-sur-Seine

Duchamp was born in France, but lived for much of his adult life in America. In 1911 he was painting in a cubist style, but he virtually stopped painting after 1912. Duchamp was intrigued by the idea that ordinary, mass-produced things could be considered as art objects in their own right. He preferred simply to sign, and sometimes alter, household objects, terming them 'readymades'. On moving to America in 1915, Duchamp became a leading figure in the New York Dada group, along with Picabia and Man Ray. His questioning attitude towards definitions of authenticity, originality, artistry and authorship has been immensely influential.

Glossary terms

  • The term refers to cultural practices that challenge tradition through experimentation and innovation, and is used in the context of modern and particularly twentieth-century art. From the French for ‘vanguard’ or ‘advance guard’ it dates back to the Middle Ages and was strictly a military term referring to those on the front-line, closest to conflict.

  • A radical artistic and literary movement that was a reaction against the cultural climate that supported the First World War. The Dadaists took an anti-establishment attitude, questioning art's status and favouring performance and collage over traditional art techniques. Many Dadaists went on to become involved with Surrealism.

  • Existing objects or images that are incorporated into an artwork. A found object that is treated as an artwork without modification is known as a readymade.

  • A term coined by Marcel Duchamp in 1913 to describe an existing object that is taken from its original context and regarded as a work of art. The term is broadly applied today to any art that transforms ordinary objects into artworks through a variety of means.