Marcel Duchamp

Female Fig Leaf

1950, cast 1961

Not on display

Marcel Duchamp 1887–1968
Original title
Feuille de vigne femelle
Object: 90 × 137 × 125 mm
Purchased with assistance from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund 1997


In the 1950s Duchamp created a series of four small-scale 'erotic objects': Not a Shoe (1950, Jedermann Collection), Female Fig Leaf (1961 bronze cast, Tate Gallery T07279), Dart Object (1962 bronze cast, Tate Gallery T07280), and Wedge of Chastity (1963 bronze and dental plastic edition, Tate Gallery T07281). Not a Shoe is thought to be an early version of the wedge section in Wedge of Chastity. After Duchamp's death, these pieces were found to be connected with Etant donnés, or Given, the piece on which Duchamp worked in secret between 1946 and 1966 and which is now installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Etant donnés can be seen as a three-dimensional realisation of the action alluded to in The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (replica in Tate Gallery, T02011). Etant donnés consists of an elaborate erotic tableau of a female nude with legs spread, and is viewed through a peep-hole in a wooden door.

Female Fig Leaf is thought to be based on a mould of the exposed parts of the female figure in Etant donnés. In 1950 Duchamp made two plaster moulds of Female Fig Leaf, one of which he gave to the artist Man Ray as a gift when the latter left New York for Paris. From this mould Man Ray supervised in 1951 the making of ten examples in painted plaster. The Tate's version is one of ten unnumbered examples produced in bronze in 1961 by the Galerie Rive Droite, Paris.

The sculpture embodies several paradoxes: what might be a cast of female genitalia is a reverse imprint; and although an 'invasive' mould of the bride's sex, the piece is designated a 'fig leaf', a term conjuring associations of prudery and censorship. When the sculpture was reproduced on the cover of the first issue of Le Surréalisme, même in 1956, it was lit in such a way as to suggest a convex rather than a concave form.

Further reading:
Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, revised edition, New York 1997, I, pp.228, 238, II, pp.797 (1950 plaster reproduced), 866
Elizabeth Cowling (ed.), Surrealism and After: The Gabrielle Keiller Collection, exhibition catalogue, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh 1997, p.90

Terry Riggs
October 1997

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Display caption

In the 1950s, Duchamp made a small number of moulded objects, based on the body’s sexual parts. They exemplify his fascination with sexual ambiguity. Female Fig Leaf was probably based on a mould of the sexual parts of the female mannequin in Duchamp's installation Etant Donnés(Given). The prudish title, Female Fig Leaf, is deliberately ironic. despite its phallic appearance and the fact that the French word ‘dard’ is slang for penis, could also derive from the cast of a vagina. It therefore embodies inside-outside, male-female dualities. Wedge of Chastity is the smallest of the three. The metal ‘wedge’ and the slit-form can also be seen as expressing the union of male and female shapes. Duchamp made the original version of the sculpture in 1954 as a wedding present for his second wife. It is reported that the couple kept it displayed on a bedside table and travelled with it, ‘like a wedding ring’.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Technique and condition

A bronze cast with a pale brown patina. The colour is a result of the bronze having oxidized naturally through handling and exposure to air rather than an applied patina. The base of the cast is open and there are visible tooling marks made using files on the underside edge. The hollow interior has loose black investment in the crevices. There are small casting imperfections such as hairline cracks on the inside and outside of the cast.

Scratched with a tool directly into the back of the bronze are the inscriptions 'Marcel Duchamp', and below this 'Feuille de vegne femelle', followed by an indistinct date which probably reads 1951. A paper label is stuck inside the cast with the words 'opera 24, imballaggio CB' printed on it.

The sculpture is in good condition, and on acquisition required only light surface cleaning.

Sandra Deighton
October 1997

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