Towards the end of their lives all three men reflected on their position within twentieth-century art. Picabia became ever more cynical about the art market, while Man Ray felt he never received the critical attention his work merited. Duchamp was happy to stay out of the limelight, preferring to ‘go underground’.

Simplicity and economy became their watchwords. Picabia produced monochromatic paintings with small dots or discs, which defied interpretation. ‘We need a lively, childlike, happy art if we are not to lose the freedom we value above everything.’

Man Ray’s ironic response to the rhetoric surrounding contemporary abstract art was ‘natural paintings’, made by squeezing paint directly onto a board, sandwiching another on top, and then pulling the two apart. ‘The least possible effort for the greatest possible result is my motto.’

Duchamp continued his intellectual explorations, but ostensibly made few new works. Content to be seen as inactive, he said he liked breathing better than working. ‘Each second, each breath is a work which is inscribed nowhere.’

Man Ray Message à Marcia: Three Pairs of Natural Paintings, c1958-65

Man Ray Message à Marcia: Three Pairs of Natural Paintings c.1958–65

Collection of Joan and Michael Salke, Naples, Florida, USA
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London

Man Ray Message à Marcia: Three Pairs of Natural Paintings, c1958-65

Man Ray Message à Marcia: Three Pairs of Natural Paintings c.1958–65

Collection of Joan and Michael Salke, Naples, Florida, USA
© Man Ray Trust / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London