The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) is already home to the world’s richest collection of Marcel Duchamp‘s work, but it just added two very uncharacteristic pieces to its holdings. Along with a small trove of new acquisitions that includes a Paul Cézanne painting of his mountain muse, the Sainte-Victoire, and a shimmering portrait of a young girl by Berthe Morisot, the PMA has received a gift of two portraits Duchamp painted of a lifelong friend’s parents — one very formal and conventional, the other utterly enigmatic.
Before “Nude Descending a Staircase,” “Bicycle Wheel,” “Étants Donnés,” and “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors,” Duchamp was an adept, impressionistic portraitist. One of the two newly acquired works, his portrait of his friend Gustave Candel’s father (at left), makes those skills plainly evident. His rendering of Madame Candel, though, seems somehow to foreshadow the radical gestures to come, as well as calling to mind more contemporary works like certain Maria Lassnig self-portraits.
The painting’s subject appears as a disembodied bust, mounted on a pole fixed to a plinth. The confounding play of perspective, shadow, and depth, evokes the Surrealist trompe l’oeils of René Magritte. Duchamp’s rendering of Madame Candel — whose granddaughter, Yolande Candel, donated the two works to the PMA in honor of her father — even seems to anticipate his own female alter ego, Rrose Sélavy.
“I think that both paintings would nicely complement the other early canvases by Marcel already in the museum’s collection,” Yolande Candel told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I vividly recall Marcel expressing to my father his personal satisfaction with the fact that so much of his work remained together at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”
Marcel Duchamp’s “Portrait of Gustave Candel’s Father” and “Portrait of Gustave Candel’s Mother” are on view in Gallery 182 of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia).
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This portrait of Gustave Candel’s mother… the lovely, stern, authoritative face owes a debt to Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein, don’t you think?
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