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.
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)
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Technique and condition
A freestanding miniature double French casement window painted turquoise blue, constructed of hard wood with mitred assembly joints. Two metal clips hold eight glass window panes into rebated frames with each pane covered, on the front, with black leather panels. The windows are displayed shut, but will open on rebated metal hinges. On the opening edge of each window is a pair of small clear glass knobs each secured with a brass nail. The vertical wood frame containing the glass is attached to the integral base board with three ferrous screws. The sculpture is structurally sound but the surface is in poor condition with tears to the leather and flaking paint. Old adhesive tape marks could be seen at the edges of the window
Duchamp made the original in1920, and a replica in 1961 for Stockholm exhibition. In 1964 he supervised making an edition of 8, of which Tate’s Fresh Widow is one. On the front of the window sill, in transfer capital letters of sticky back plastic is the name of the work, ‘Fresh Widow’, ‘Copyright’ and ‘Rose Selavy 1920’. On an attached copper plate at the back of the window sill is the inscription ‘Marcel Duchamp 1954 5/8’ (scratched in copper by hand and stamped in the copper, in capital letters), ‘Fresh Widow, 1920 Edition Galerie Schwartz, Milan’. To one side of this plate is ‘Marcel Duchamp 1964’ (hand written signature in black pen on the painted surface). The surface of the copper plate has a clear coating which appeared yellow under UV light, this seems to extend over the fixing screws.
Scientific analysis in 1997 identified the binding medium between the leather and the glass as a polysaccharide material, possibly a gum. The turquoise paint layer was applied over either a thin plaster or white priming layer. It was found to be an alkyd resin, used straight from a tube of paint, not mixed by the artist.
Advice for treatment of the leather was sought from The Leather Conservation Centre in the UK. In their opinion the leather was sheepskin with a natural skin finish overlaid with Acrylic type black paint. It was too shiny to be just dyed. The brown under colour of the leather, which would have been black if it had been dyed, was visible. The damaged leather was re-laid with Acrylic adhesive applied under thermal pressure. Acrylic based paint was applied in many thin layers, some leather pore hole marks were also added to replicate the original. This achieved a tidy although visible restoration.
Two existing holes in the underside of the sculpture were fitted with threaded sleeves to take steel threaded rods to hold the sculpture secure whilst on display.