In poet William Carlos Williams’s written account of No. 3, recorded in the prologue to his 1920 book Kora in Hell: Improvisations, he recalls Walter Arensberg showing off the new piece in his apartment. The collector described it as “a full-sized photographic print of the first picture with many new touches by Duchamp himself and so by the technique of its manufacture as by other means it is a novelty!”
The conservation team at the PMA, which has closely studied Duchamp’s replica, agree that the artist’s technique was innovative. “I wouldn’t call what Duchamp did with No. 3 ‘retouching,’” explains Nancy Ash, senior conservator of works on paper at the museum. “This is ultimately an independent work of art.”
And since it was an artwork that stood on its own, the Arensbergs kept No. 3 on the wall even after they finally purchased No. 2 from Torrey in 1919. Nevertheless, it is easy to mix up the two. “The first time I saw [No. 3] in storage, [from] a distance I thought it was No. 2,” Smith recalls. “And then walked over and thought ‘Oh, I’m wrong, I should know that.’”
The playful Duchamp would have likely been delighted to hear that his twin nudes descending staircases were confusing curators over a century later. Even after creating No. 3
for the Arensbergs, he continued to forge his iconic shingled nude many times over. In 1918, he created Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 4)
, a miniature-sized birthday gift for the socialite Carrie Stettheimer to put in her elaborate dollhouse (on view
at the Museum of the City of New York
And later, a tiny version of Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) became part of his “Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Suitcase)” series from 1935–41: a portable, small-scale, monographic collection of the artist’s oeuvre. Duchamp’s relationship with that mechanical nude was a long-term one, continuing for years after it first caused such a stir at the 1913 Armory Show.