Marcel Duchamp - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Thursday, April 15, 2021 | Phillips

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  • Overview

    'When Dada was in full blast, and we were demolishing many things, the Mona Lisa became a prime victim. I put a moustache and a goatee on her face simply with the idea of desecrating it.' —Marcel Duchamp

    In the canon of contemporary art, there exists an invisible line that distinguishes what came before and what came after Marcel Duchamp. Indeed, in the early 1910s, the Franco-American artist had created a series of works that deeply shook the line of production that had evolved throughout the 19th century. In 1917, specifically, his submission of The Fountain, a readymade urinal, disturbed traditional understandings of artistic creation, and posed the question: can anything that is named art be understood as such? With his unorthodox designs and concepts, Duchamp became the art world’s resident trailblazer, poetic and elusive, as if detached from the rules and regulations that had formerly defined this same world.


    Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1950, porcelain urinal, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia. © 2021. Photo: The Philadelphia Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence.

    In 1919, in keeping with his subversive spirit, Duchamp purchased a cheap reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, and decided upon a salacious transformation. In a simple yet impactful manner, he embellished the protagonist’s enigmatic smile with a moustache and beard, and nestled the five letters ‘L.H.O.O.Q’ beneath her vandalised appearance. When read aloud in French, the sequence of letters below her portrait enunciate the expression ‘Elle a chaud au cul’, roughly translating to ‘She has a hot ass’, or as Duchamp more subtly stated: ‘There is a fire down below’. While this inscription most evidently points to a sexual inuendo, it also more covertly points to the protagonist’s propensity for elusive movement, evidenced by her recent ‘escape’ from her Louvre headquarters (in 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen by the Italian museum worker Vincenzo Peruggia). Stripped of the regal mystery for which she had become known since her creation in the early 16th century, the Mona Lisa under Duchamp’s irreverent touch exudes pastiche— a quality echoing his defiant allegiance to Dada. One of the most recognisable and meaningful works to emerge from the artist’s oeuvre, L.H.O.O.Q. is an image that the artist returned to numerous times throughout his life, and from which a number of variants reside in prestigious institutions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Notably, three examples of the present edition are held in museums, at the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, the Staatliches Museum Schwerin and the Israel Museum of Art, Jerusalem.


    A Decades-Long Affair


    Although officially withdrawn from the art world and fully devoted to game of chess by the 1960s, Duchamp’s artistic contributions continued being celebrated by artists, collectors and historians throughout the rest of his life and beyond. For posterity, the artist had several times given his permission to reproduce some of his important works from the 1910s, namely The Fountain, Hat Rack and In Advance of a Broken Arm. In 1964, Duchamp’s close friend Arturo Schwarz published a brief essay on the artist, penned by the French writer Pierre de Massot and entitled Marcel Duchamp, propos et souvenirs. Planning to release only thirty-five copies, Schwarz asked Duchamp to provide a piece that could be produced in a small edition alongside the text. Deciding to use L.H.O.O.Q., Duchamp purchased 38 colour reproductions of the painting, including three unnumbered copies — one for himself, one for Schwarz and one for de Massot. Pertaining to this particular series, the present work displays the trademark use of white gouache to conceal the name of the original author as well as the museum where the original Mona Lisa resides. 

    'Duchamp used a color reproduction of one of the icons of painting to allow us a certain irreverence toward a museum-sanctioned artwork: applying a mustache and beard to the Mona Lisa’s face, and titling the work L.H.O.O.Q.' —Kynaston McShine 

    Marcel Duchamp with his L.H.O.O.Q., circa 1965. © Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021.

    The Progression of Dada


    Bearing its roots in pre-war avant-garde, the Dada movement flourished in the mid-1910s and was characterised by an iconoclastic spirit that thoroughly challenged accepted notions of art. In 1913, Duchamp had portended the emergence of this movement with his use of the term of ‘anti-art’, similarly advocating for alternative — and oftentimes irreverent — artistic expressions. Spanning visual, literary, and sound media, including collage, sound poetry, cut-up writing, and sculpture, the art of the Dada movement rejected the logic, reason, and aestheticism of modern capitalist society, instead expressing nonsense, the absurd, and anti-bourgeois protest. With his notoriously subversive works, Duchamp was one of its foremost proponents, and L.H.O.O.Q. perhaps best encapsulated his leading efforts of defiance in its name. He himself declared, ‘in 1919, when Dada was in full swing, and we were tearing down many things, Mona Lisa was the first victim’.i

  • The Mona Lisa As Muse

  • Given her iconic status and virtual inextricability from the very idea of the painterly medium’s most seminal examples, the Mona Lisa indeed represented the perfect victim for a movement that wished to tear down artistic conventions. The figure’s earliest known appropriation was in 1887, when the illustrator Sapeck (Eugène Battaille) portrayed the Joconde smoking a pipe. Again, in 1914, she was seized by Kasimir Malevich, as the Russian artist reduced her appearance within a collage that placed her in a corner with a large red X over her face. Later, and following Duchamp’s groundbreaking transformation, Salvador Dalí painted Self Portrait as Mona Lisa in 1954, and René Magritte painted La Joconde, 1960, in which he made the protagonist disappear entirely, instead painting only her characteristic surroundings: a pair of curtains. Then, it was not until 1963, when the Mona Lisa once again left Paris and travelled to the United States for a tour at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, that she once again became a subject of artistic appropriation. Catching the attention of the Pop master Andy Warhol that year, the Mona Lisa proliferated in silkscreens addressing themes of fame, disaster and consumer culture.


    Evolving Perspectives


    While Duchamp’s derisive creations represented an assail to the notion of art most explicitly, they also addressed societal notions of identity, including questions surrounding gender and class. ‘On the simplest level, Duchamp’s banal gesture nominated the Mona Lisa as a man’, wrote Antoinette LaFarge. ‘More exactly, Duchamp created a rudimentary sort of mask that reads instantly as male but does not even pretend to conceal the woman behind the mask. In a sense L.H.O.O.Q. is an artificial hermaphrodite, an image of a woman with that most superficial and nonfunctional characteristic of maleness, a mustache’.ii By inserting the seemingly innocuous accessorial element of the beard onto the Mona Lisa’s appearance, Duchamp indeed highlighted notions of performativity whilst challenging the female/male dichotomy.


    Rrose Selavy (Marcel Duchamp), 1920© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2015.
    Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp as Rrose Sélavy, c. 1920-21, gelatin silver print, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia. Image: Scala Images. © Association Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021. © Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2021.

    Discussed extensively in the literature on Duchamp, many have interpreted the mustached Joconde as a direct parallel to the artist’s female alter ego, Rrose Sélavy, and his ongoing play with notions of gender and identity. ‘The curious thing about that mustache and goatee is that when you look at the Mona Lisa it becomes a man. It is not a woman disguised as a man; it is a real man, and that was my discovery, without realizing it at the time,’ described Duchamp.iii The present work thus serves as a poupée russe that exists to be conceptually dismantled, deciphered through all its playfully layered meanings.


    Marcel Duchamp Discussing L.H.O.O.Q.


    In 1961, Duchamp discussed his audacious alteration of an art historical icon in a radio interview with Herbert Crehan, broadcast by WBAI, New York.


    Marcel Duchamp: I had the idea that a painting cannot, must not be looked at too much. It becomes desecrated by the very act of being seen too much. It reaches a point of exhaustion. In 1919, when Dada was in full blast, and we were demolishing many things, the Mona Lisa became a prime victim. I put a moustache and a goatee on her face simply with the idea of desecrating it.


    Herbert Crehan: The whole impulse behind the Dada movement was iconoclastic. This was related to the feelings that were rife in the streets of Europe following the First World War.


    MD: We were also very pacifist. We saw the stupidity of the war. We were in a position to judge the results, which were no results at all. Our movement was another form of pacifist demonstration. In reference to the Mona Lisa I also added a sentence of initials on the bottom of that reproduction – L.H.O.O.Q. A loose translation of them would be ‘there is fire down below.’


    HC: There was ‘fire down below’ all through Europe. It was a basic anxiety. About the same time Freud was taking a great interest in the personality of Leonardo, and especially in the special enchantment of the face of Mona Lisa.


    MD: Freud’s point of view was to demonstrate the homosexuality of the personality of Leonardo, meaning not that he was necessarily an active homosexual, but that as far as medical science could determine he displayed the characteristics of one. The curious thing about that moustache and goatee is that when you look at it the Mona Lisa becomes a man. It is not a woman disguised as a man; it is a real man, and that was my discovery, without realizing it at the time.”


    Three years later, Duchamp described L.H.O.O.Q. in a lecture at the City Art Museum of St. Louis: “This Mona Lisa with a mustache and a goatee is a combination of Readymade and iconoclastic Dadaism. The original, I mean the original Readymade, is a cheap chromo 8 x 5 on which I inscribed at the bottom four [sic] letters which, pronounced like initials in French, made a very risqué joke on the Gioconda.”

    i Marcel Duchamp, Duchamp du signe, Paris, 1994, n.p.

    ii Antoinette LaFarge, ‘The Bearded Lady and the Shaven Man: Mona Lisa, Meet Mona/Leo’, Leonardo, vol. 29, no. 5, 1996, p. 379.

    iii Marcel Duchamp, quoted in Calvin Tomkins, Duchamp, A Biography, New York, 1996, p. 222.

    • Provenance

      Acquired by the present owner circa 1970

    • Exhibited

      Jerusalem, The Israel Museum; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor; Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Dreaming with Open Eyes: The Vera, Silvia and Arturo Schwarz Collection of Dada and Surrealist Art from the Israel Museum, 21 December 2000 - 8 September 2002, no. 193, pp. 91, 151 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, The Beauty of Sanctity: Masterworks from Every Age, 29 March - 12 November 2005, n. p (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, Surrealism and Beyond in the Israel Museum, 27 February - 14 June 2007, pp. 226-227, 276 (another example exhibited and illustrated)
      New York, Gagosian Gallery, Marcel Duchamp, 26 June - 29 August 2014 (another example exhibited)
      Pasadena, Norton Simon Museum, Duchamp to Pop, 4 March - 29 August 2016 (another example exhibited)

    • Literature

      Pierre de Massot, Marcel Duchamp—Propos et Souvenirs, Milan, 1965
      Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1970, pp. 476-477, no. 261 (another example illustrated)
      Francis M. Naumann, Marcel Duchamp, The Art of Making Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, New York, 1999, no. 8.75, pp. 247, 249, 329 (another example illustrated, p. 247)
      Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, vol. 1, New York, 2000, no. 369f, pp. 32, 45, 99, 101,197, 199, 201-204, 670-671, 996 (another example illustrated, p. 670)
      Francis M. Naumann, The Recurrent, Haunting Ghost: Essays on the Art, Life and Legacy of Marcel Duchamp, New York, 2012, fig. 8.11, pp. 82-90 (another example illustrated, p. 89)



signed, titled and numbered '34/35 Marcel Duchamp L.H.O.O.Q.' lower edge
graphite and gouache on offset lithograph on paper
30.3 x 23.2 cm (11 7/8 x 9 1/8 in.)
Executed in Neuilly-sur-Seine in September 1964, this work is number 34 from an edition of 35 plus 3 unnumbered examples for the artist, Pierre de Massot and Arturo Schwarz. Mme Jacqueline Matisse Monnier and the Association Marcel Duchamp have confirmed the authenticity of this work and it is recorded in the Association Marcel Duchamp archives under no. 64.369fEG6.

Other examples from this edition are in the permanent collections of the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena; the Staatliches Museum Schwerin; and The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Full Cataloguing

£200,000 - 300,000 ‡♠

Sold for £491,400

Contact Specialist


Rosanna Widén
Senior Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

+ 44 20 7318 4060


Olivia Thornton
Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Europe

+ 44 20 7318 4099


20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 15 April 2021