Marcel Duchamp

Coffee Mill

1911

Artist
Marcel Duchamp 1887–1968
Original title
Moulin à café
Medium
Oil paint and graphite on board
Dimensions
Support: 330 x 127 mm
frame: 683 x 457 x 61 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1981
Reference
T03253

On loan to: Royal Academy of Arts (London, UK)

Exhibition: Dali and Duchamp

Summary

Duchamp painted Coffee Mill for his brother, the sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon, who, at the time of his wedding, asked a number of his artist friends to make small works to decorate his kitchen. As Duchamp later recollected: 'I made this old-fashioned coffee mill for him. It shows the different facets of the coffee grinding operation and the handle on top is seen simultaneously in several positions as it revolves. You can see the ground coffee in a heap under the cogwheels of the central shaft, which turns in the directions of the arrow on top.' (d'Harnoncourt and McShine, p.256.)

The year after he painted Coffee Mill Duchamp attracted considerable attention exhibiting his most Cubist work, Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912 (Philadelphia Museum of Art) at the Armory Show in New York. The influence of Cubism was, however, already visible in Coffee Mill: the use of fractured lines and repeated elements to suggest the movement of the grinder were typically Cubist devices, and Duchamp himself said that the painting was 'based on the idea of "dismantling" the grinder' (interview with Dorothy Norman, 1953, first published in Art in America, vol.57, July-August 1969, p.38). With its diagrammatic appearance, specifically the inclusion of an arrow, Coffee Mill can also be thought of as the forerunner of all Dadaist machine imagery. 'When I painted the Coffee Mill it was the first time I became interested in machine forms', Duchamp later explained, 'the arrow indicates the direction in which the machine should turn. The handle is shown in different positions - this having to do with the idea of movement, of repetition.' (ibid. p.38)

Both functionally and symbolically Coffee Mill anticipates the role of the element identified as a chocolate grinder in Duchamp's celebrated work The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (Tate T02011). In a series of notes written to accompany The Large Glass, Duchamp explained that, 'The bachelor grinds his chocolate himself' (Schwarz, p.573). This statement hints that the action of the Coffee Mill might also be taken as a metaphor for masturbation, and Duchamp later commented that: 'Always there has been a necessity for circles in my life, for, how do you say, rotation. It is a kind of onanism.' (Ades, p.75.)

Further Reading:

Dawn Ades, Neil Cox and David Hopkins, Marcel Duchamp, London 1999, pp.45-7, reproduced p.47 in colour
Anne d'Harnoncourt and Kynaston McShine, Marcel Duchamp, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973, pp.255-6, reproduced p.81 in colour
Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, revised and expanded edition, New York 1997, pp.558-9, p.696, reproduced p.558

Sophie Howarth
May 2000

Display caption

The coffee grinder’s handle is shown in multiple positions while, stripped of its outer casing, the mechanism produces the flow of coffee. This diagrammatic approach, reminiscent of a technical manual, reflects Duchamp’s fascination with machinery as well as his concern for representing the passage of time. Coffee Mill was made as a gift for Duchamp’s brother, the sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon, to be displayed in his kitchen.

Gallery label, September 2013

Catalogue entry

T03253 COFFEE MILL 1911

Semi-illegible inscription on the back, apparently ‘Pour Raymond/très affectueusement/Marcel Duchamp/II’ (the last figure possibly 2)

Oil and pencil on millboard, 13 × 15 (33.1 × 12.7)

Purchased from a private collector through Xavier Fourcade, Inc. (Grant-in-Aid) 1981

Prov: Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Paris; Mme Yvonne Lignières (formerly Mme Duchamp-Villon), Paris; Marcel Duchamp, New York; Mme Maria Martins, Rio de Janeiro; private collection
Exh: Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 1936–January 1937 (216, repr.); Surrealismo e Art Fantástica, VIII São Paulo Bienal, September–November 1965 (works not numbered, repr.); The Almost Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, Tate Gallery, June–July 1966 (79, repr.); The Machine (as seen at the end of the Mechanical Age), Museum of Modern Art, New York, November 1968–February 1969 (works not numbered, repr.p.74); University of St Thomas, Houston, March–May 1969 (works not numbered, repr.p.74); San Francisco Museum of Art, June–August 1969 (works not numbered, repr.p.74); Marcel Duchamp, Philadelphia Museum of Art, September–November 1973 (69, repr.in black and white and in colour); Museum of Modern Art, New York, December 1973–February 1974 (69, repr.in black and white and in colour); Art Institute of Chicago, March–April 1974 (69, repr.in black and white and in colour); L'Oeuvre de Marcel Duchamp, Musée National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Paris, January–May 1977 (61, repr.)
Lit: André Breton, ‘Phare de La Mariée’ in Minotaure, no.6, Winter 1935, p.46; Harriet and Sidney Janis, ‘Marcel Duchamp: Anti-Artist’ in View, V, no.1, 1945, pp.19, 21, 23, repr.p.34; Robert Lebel, Marcel Duchamp, 1959, no.85, pp.8, 13, 45, 74–5, 90, 162, repr.as frontispiece in colour; Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, 1969, no.431, pp.15, 55, 108–10, 119, 431, 442–3, 461, 512, 534, repr.p.431 in black and white, and p.251 in colour; Marcel Duchamp (exh. catalogue), Philadelphia Museum of Art and tour 1973–4, pp.70–1, 79, 88, 255–6, repr.p.255 in black and white, and p.81 in colour; Lawrence D. Steefel, Jr., The Position of Duchamp's ‘Glass’ in the Development of his Art, New York and London 1977, pp.113–27, 364–9, repr.pl.13
Repr: Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, Du ‘Cubisme’, Paris 1912, n.p.; The Tate Gallery: Illustrated Biennial Report 1980–82, 1983, p.34 in colour

In his notes for a slide lecture on his own work delivered at the City Art Museum, St Louis, in 1964, Duchamp wrote of this picture:

'Towards the end of 1911, my brother Raymond Duchamp-Villon had the idea of decorating his kitchen with oil paintings. He asked about six or seven of his friends: Gleizes, Metzinger, de La Fresnaye and others to give him a small painting.

'I made this old-fashioned coffee-mill for him. It shows the different facets of the coffee grinding operation and the handle on top is seen simultaneously in several positions as it revolves. You can see the ground coffee in a heap under the cog wheel of the central shaft which turns in the direction of the arrow on top’. (Notes first published in the catalogue of the 1973–4 Duchamp exhibition, pp.255–6).

And to Arturo Schwarz he added:

'This painting was one of a small collection of paintings, all of the same size, which some of my brother's friends - Gleizes, Metzinger, La Fresnaye, as well as my brother Jacques Villon, contributed to decorate his kitchen. They formed a kind of frieze on the doors of small cupboards, just below the ceiling.’ (Schwarz, op.cit., p.108).

Harriet and Sidney Janis also mention Léger as one of the artists who contributed a painting, so those who participated seem to have been Duchamp-Villon's two brothers Marcel Duchamp and Jacques Villon, Gleizes, Metzinger, La Fresnaye, Léger and possibly one or two more.

The ‘Coffee Mill’ was painted at Neuilly in November–December 1911 and, despite its very small size, is a work of crucial importance in Duchamp's development; indeed according to the Janises ‘Duchamp regards the “Coffee-grinder” as the key picture to his complete work’. Though made, as they say, ‘casually and pleasurably, responding to the mood of the circumstances under which it was requested’, it is not only Duchamp's first picture of a machine (and therefore a forerunner of all the Dada works of machine themes) and of forms in motion, but introduces references to sexuality and even alchemy. It therefore marks the beginning of a number of his most original preoccupations which were later to culminate in the large glass ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even’ of 1915–23.

Published in:

The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

Features

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