Feuille de vigne femelle

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  • Provenance

    Galerie Rive Droite, Paris
    Galerie Eva af Burén, Stockholm
    Catja Johansson, Stockholm (by descent from the above)
    Burén Collection, Stockholms Auktionsverk, 11 March 2009, lot 30
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Stockholm, Eva af Burén, Marcel Duchamp, April - May 1963
    Antwerp, Galerie Ronny Van de Velde, Marcel Duchamp, 15 September - 15 December 1991, no. 127, n. p. (another example exhibited and illustrated)
    Berlin, Martin-Gropius-Bau; London, Royal Academy of Arts; London, Saatchi Gallery, American Art in the 20th Century: Painting and Sculpture, 1913-1993, 8 May - 12 December 1993, no. 29, p. 478 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
    Stockholm, Galerie Bel'Art, Marcel Duchamp, 2006
    The Hague, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Parijs, Stad van de moderne kunst 1900-1960, 15 October 2011 - 29 January 2012, p. 236
    Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland; Hamburger Kunsthalle; Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Surreal Encounters: Collecting the Marvellous. Works from the Collections of Roland Penrose, Edward James, Gabrielle Keiller and Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch, 4 June 2016 - 28 May 2017, no. 52 (another example exhibited and illustrated)

  • Literature

    Robert Lebel, Marcel Duchamp, London, 1959, pl. 120, no. 196, pp. 56, 96, 175 (another example illustrated)
    Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, vol. I, London, 1969, no. 332b, p. 525 (another example illustrated)
    Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, vol. I, New York, 1997, no. 536c, p. 797 (plaster version illustrated)
    Francis M. Naumann, Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Making Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, New York, 1999, no. 8.16, p. 219 (another example illustrated)
    Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, vol. I, New York, 2000, no. 536c, p. 797 (plaster version illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Feuille de vigne femelle is one of the 'erotic objects' that Marcel Duchamp conceived at the beginning of the 1950s, following what he had given to believe was a quarter-century’s absence from artistic creation. The work was first created in two plaster examples, one of which was given to Man Ray when he was moving to Paris from the United States. It was subsequently owned by Jasper Johns, who donated it to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where it is currently on display. The artist’s proof was retained by Duchamp, and then by his widow Alexina, or ‘Teenie.’ Man Ray, under Duchamp’s auspices, created plaster casts from his version, while a bronze edition of ten was made in 1961 and issued by Jean Larcade’s cutting-edge Galerie Rive Droite in Paris, with artist’s name, the title and the date of conception inscribed by Duchamp on the back. Feuille de vigne femelle forms part of this bronze edition, other examples of which are now held by Tate, London, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which received a cast from Duchamp’s widow in 1976. An earlier example of Feuille de vigne femelle was photographed for the cover for the first edition of André Breton’s Le surréalisme, même in 1956.

    By 1950, when Feuille de vigne femelle was first conceived, Duchamp had become something of a cipher. Most of his best-known paintings and objects dated from the 1910s, and much of what he had created then and subsequently, was owned by his friends and patrons, such as Louise and Walter Arensberg, whose collection now forms part of the authoritative holding of Duchamp’s work in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Duchamp had nonetheless retained a crucial position in artistic and intellectual circles on both sides of the Atlantic, despite claiming to have devoted himself largely to chess. Feuille de vigne femelle was one of a trio of works, alongside Objet dard and Coin de chasteté, described as his ‘Erotic Objects’, which supposedly marked the end of Duchamp’s self-imposed exile from artistic creation.

    This period of creative abstinence was itself a self-conceived myth. Although it was known to the public only after his death, Duchamp had in fact been working on Etant donnés (Philadelphia Museum of Art), his final masterpiece, since the mid-1940s. The erotic objects including Feuille de vigne femelle are linked to the gradual development of Etant donnés, a mysterious and complex work which features a wall and doors through which the viewer peeks, seeing an entire landscape with a waterfall, the foreground occupied by a female reclining nude holding a gas lamp. Duchamp had few confidants while it was being made, but one of them was his lover, the Brazilian sculptor—and wife of that country’s ambassador—Maria Martins. In 2009, an exhibition took place at the Philadelphia Museum of Art largely dedicated to the genesis of this fascinating tableau. Granted unprecedented access to the archives of both Duchamp and Martins, the exhibition revealed that during the early stages of the creation of Etant donnés, he had used casts of her body to create the nude that forms its centrepiece. In turn, the first Feuille de vigne femelle was a cast from that sculpture, and is therefore intimately linked to its creation. This ties the sculpture to Duchamp’s own personal life and his relationship with Martins.

    Duchamp had long been fascinated by the erotic, by what is revealed and concealed, first exploring the theme famously in La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même, of 1915-23 (Philadelphia Museum of Art). Also known as ‘The Large Glass’, this work appears diagrammatic, tapping into the language of mechanical and scientific illustration, yet is resolutely enigmatic. In this sense, it appears diametrically opposed to the seemingly overt subject matter on display in Etant donnés and indeed in Feuille de vigne femelle. Yet the Duchampian paradoxes are present here too; we are presented with the negative impression of female genitalia—hence the title. This is the ‘fig leaf’ that could conceivably protect someone’s modesty, if this were being taken from a life cast. The mould would be the only protection, and in itself a deliberately compromised one, ultimately being used to illustrate, rather than conceal. Duchamp himself would know more than most about the fallible nature of a fig-leaf as a cache-sexe, having acted as Adam to Bronia Perlmutter’s Eve in a tableau based on a painting by Lucas Cranach which formed part of Francis Picabia’s farce, Ciné Sketch of 1924, as immortalised by Man Ray. Meanwhile, the notion of concealing the private in plain view was one that must have appealed to Duchamp in 1950—the Feuille de vigne femelle was a teasing, sardonic prelude to Etant donnés, presented to an unknowing and unsuspecting audience.

    Intriguingly, while Duchamp used casts of Martins’ body (and ultimately his wife Teenie’s arm) to create the nude figure for Etant donnés, this great pioneer of the readymade was also involved in the hands-on modelling of the plaster itself, as he sought to achieve the effect he desired. The plaster was later covered with parchment in order to give a realistic impression of human skin to the viewer. This direct sculptural approach, so far from the appropriations with which Duchamp is so often associated, adds an enthralling complexity to the origins of Feuille de vigne femelle, despite its seemingly open appearance. Until 2009, authors debated whether the sculpture was handmade, a life cast or something else. Certainly, Martins and Duchamp are now known to have taken lessons in life casting when they were both living in New York, but Feuille de vigne femelle itself has a more complex origin, being based both on casts of Martins’ body and on Duchamp’s own handiwork.

    This ambiguity is only too apt in Feuille de vigne femelle, and indeed is indicative of the elusive conceptual nature of Duchamp’s work in general. It is relevant that he himself had a female alter ego, Rrose Selavy, whose own invented name was a play on ‘Eros’. Duchamp’s deliberate muddying of gender, and of the wider categorisations that underpin so much in life, was embodied in the character of Rrose Selavy and is likewise echoed in this sculpture. After all, the mould is the negative, or opposite, of female genitalia, just by the nature of its composition, straddling the traditional border of gender.

    The very notion of the mould used to create Feuille de vigne femelle itself introduces Duchamp’s concept of the ‘infra-mince’, or infra-thin, an exploration of negligible, liminal yet vital blurred boundaries. The implied contact between the mould here and the body from which it was cast is an encounter that has been immortalised in its inverted surface. It is worth noting that, for the 1956 cover of Le surréalisme, même, Duchamp himself directed the photography to ensure that the work appeared convex, not concave—as if it were the subject itself, not the negative mould, that were being illustrated, à la Courbet. Both as an artwork and as the cover image for a Surrealist publication, Feuille de vigne femelle appears to reinforce Duchamp’s own declared intent to ‘grasp things with the mind the way the penis is grasped by the vagina’ (Marcel Duchamp, quoted in T. Girst, The Duchamp Dictionary, London, 2014, p. 139).


Property from the Triton Collection Foundation

Feuille de vigne femelle

incised with the artist's signature, titled and dated '"Feuille de vigne femelle" Marcel Duchamp 1951' lower edge
9 x 14 x 12.5 cm (3 1/2 x 5 1/2 x 4 7/8 in.)
Conceived in 1951 and cast in bronze in 1961 by Galerie Rive Droite, Paris, this work is from an unnumbered edition of 10 and is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from the Association Marcel Duchamp.

£300,000 - 400,000 

sold for £501,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061 hhighley@phillips.com

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2018