His Most Famous Painting – Nude Descending a Staircase, Number 2 – Marcel Duchamp

One of the most influential figure of the “Contemporary Art” is Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). He became known for his sturdily expressed contempt for the area of conventional ‘Fine Arts.’ Also, he has, in a way, a relation to the ‘Surrealist Movement’ which is the descendant of ‘Cubism.’ What’s controversial in this artist is the fact that his methodology and themes were not well received by ‘Cubists.’ As a consequence, the ‘Dada Movement’ emerged. The most famous painting of Marcel as well as his most scandalous ‘Dadaist’ work is the “Nu descendant un escalier n° 2 (Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2)”. Such creation became a turning point of his life.

When Duchamp created the “Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2″ in 1912, he did it with great enthusiasm. This is indeed a path-breaking piece that has a measurement of 57.88″ X 35.12” oil work on canvas. If you want to see it, you will find this among the gallery paintings shown in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This is one monochromic work that mainly contains yellow and its shades. It can be said that this is a quiet ‘Cubist’ painting as shown by its geometric representation rather than figurative. It is the spirit of ‘Futuristic Art’ infused in it that makes it unique. This is an original painting that hardly contains some background. Instead, the background shows the allusion to the dark ‘staircase.’ Marcel didn’t embody sensuality but embodied around twenty or so images of a mechanically structured figure. These images or figures were arranged in a sequence over the ‘staircase.’

As regards the ‘Cubist’ style, you can easily distinguish structurally the bright figure, silhouetted against a dark background if it is either a male or female. The sequence of images conveys the how the figure changes postures while it descends the staircase. This is a concept which is almost similar to the composition of a stroboscopic motion picture where there is a sequence of stills. The “Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2” is indeed the outcome of intense observation and diligence. An element of raw force of energy and futuristic vision are both carried.

In 1912, when it this revolutionary ‘Futurism’ and unorthodox methodology had its debut show at the Paris Salon des Indépendants, a lot of opposition and negative reviews came out. One more reason why this creation had a poor response and why it was eventually rejected was the backdrop of the covert, contemptuous emotions behind this work. Despite being annoyed, Duchamp chose to re-present the painting at the International Exhibition of Modern Art in 1913. Just like its debut show, it again received criticism due to the common belief that it was only a mere caricature of the much-revered subject of nudity that lacked artistic aesthetics.

Even if the painting was either loved or hated, the “Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2” never lost its public attention. In fact, it turned out to be a topic of lots of American parodies, including books, musicals, and paintings. “When a thing ceases to be a subject of controversy, it ceases to be a subject of interest.” Such statement of William Hazlitt is indeed remarkably justified by the history.

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