Artsy Insight: Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase

Had Marcel Duchamp been present at the 1913 Armory Show and had a chance to plead his case, perhaps the public would have given his infamous Nude Descending a Staircase a better reception. With contextual insight, they might have identified the allegedly absent figure with ease: Duchamp was inspired by motion studies, and his nude figure reflected the motion-blur of chronographs they were surely familiar with from the sequential exposures of both Etienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge (pictured respectively).

“In 1912... the idea of describing the movement of a nude coming downstairs while still retaining static visual means to do this, particularly interested me,” Duchamp later said. “The fact that I had seen chronophotographs of fencers in action and horse galloping (what we today call stroboscopic photography) gave me the idea for the Nude.”

  Surely, he should have spoken sooner.

Marey and Muybridge photographs via Wikimedia Commons.