Numerous optical and perceptual themes occupied Duchamp in the period coinciding with his earliest formulations of the transparent The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors Even (The Large Glass) (replica in Tate Gallery T02011). In 1920 Duchamp had a carpenter in New York construct a miniature replica of a standard French-style window. To prevent the viewer seeing through the glass, Duchamp covered each pane with a square panel of black leather which, he insisted, 'should be shined every day like shoes' (Duchamp quoted in D'Harnoncourt and McShine, p.291). In denying perspective, Fresh Widow plays with tradition. In 1921 Duchamp produced a related work, The Brawl at Austerlitz (Staaatsgalerie Stuttgart), a miniature window set in a brick wall with its panes of glass painted white.

Fresh Widow has been described by the dealer Arturo Schwarz as a 'semi-ready-made'. The readymade element is the pre-existing idea of a French window, which was the artist's 'raw material'. According to Schwarz, Duchamp said that, instead of being considered a painter, he 'would have liked, on this occasion, to have been thought of as a fenêtrier', meaning not a window-maker but rather a person 'concerned with the possible developments that a window might undergo' (Schwarz, I, p.205). The title is a pun on the English phrase 'French window'. The artist's use of puns and wordplays was a central element within his work. This was the first work to be signed by Duchamp's female alter ego Rose Sélavy (later spelt Rrose), a homophone of 'éros, c'est la vie', or 'eros is life'.

The original version of this work is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. A replica was made in 1961 for an exhibition at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm. In 1964, using photographs, tracings and information supplied by the Museum of Modern Art, Duchamp supervised the making of an edition of eight examples of the work by the Galleria Schwarz, Milan, of which this is number five. Two further examples were reserved for himself and Arturo Schwarz.

Further reading:
Anne D'Harnoncourt and Kynaston McShine (eds.), Marcel Duchamp, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, New York 1973, pp.290-1 (original version reproduced)
Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, revised edition, New York 1997, I, pp.204-5, II, pp.678-9 (original version reproduced)

Terry Riggs
October 1997