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