Richard Hamilton

A mirrorical return


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Richard Hamilton 1922–2011
Digital print on paper
Image: 530 × 661 mm
Purchased 1999


A mirrorical return is an image created by digital collage on a computer. It is a development of a project Hamilton began several years previously when he created works for an exhibition of five artists at Anthony d’Offay Gallery, London in 1995. He made seven colour transparencies of seven spaces in his Oxfordshire house (bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, dining room, dining room/ kitchen, passage and attic) and combined them by digital collage with seven black and white photographs of the gallery walls where each painting was to be hung, before printing the image onto canvas. The print A mirrorical return is based on the image used in the painting Passage, 1994-5 (Staatliche Museen, Kassel). More recently Hamilton created The annunciation, 2005 (Tate P20287) based on the colour transparency he had utilised in Bedroom, 1994-5 (Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt).

The image depicted in A mirrorical return is a view looking straight down a short section of passage towards a window set in the wall at the end. The careful study in perspective leads to a vanishing point outside the window, left of centre of the page. A bare wooden desk, a blue metal chair and some ornamental objects on the window ledge suggest that this small space may function as a place for contemplation. The view into the passageway is slightly at an angle, resulting in one longer and one shorter wall. On the longer wall, a framed glass panel extends beyond the picture frame. It is a view of the lower panel of the Large Glass, or The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even, 1915-23 by Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). Hamilton knows this work intimately, having made the reconstruction in Tate collection (Tate T02011) for Duchamp’s retrospective at Tate in 1966. In the print, a naked woman young woman appears in the glass, merging with its imagery. Hamilton explained:

The framed work on the right-hand wall is a full-size perspective drawing made of the lower panel for the Duchamp Large Glass reconstruction in 1965. Because the pencil drawing was invisible in the photograph, I used a colour transparency of the Large Glass reconstruction. First by masking out all the background leaving only the Large Glass components on a transparent background. I then distorted it to fit exactly into the frame. 

When I made the print, part of a project to populate the uninhabited interiors of the d'Offay pictures, I photographed the model reading a letter by the window – hints of Vermeer. The figure seemed too small by the window so I enlarged her and brought her forward down the passage. Realising that she would, in the new position, be reflected I flipped [and] laterally reversed her into the Large Glass. It is not a reflection, she is ghosted (maybe 70% transparent) into the glass. She blends with, rather than overlays, the Chocolate Grinder.

(Hamilton in email correspondence with the author, June 2007.)

The young woman is a model Hamilton has used several times including in The annunciation. As his words quoted above suggest, Hamilton took care to ensure that she appears neither behind nor before, but part of the glass itself. In other words, although logic would suggest that she is a reflection, she clearly is not. Just as the young woman’s presence is visually puzzling, the reflection of the passageway in the glass is physically impossible in the position in which it is located on the wall.

The title A mirrorical return refers to a term Duchamp used in a note for the Large Glass published in facsimile form in 1934 in the Green Box (T07744). Hamilton claims to have based his reconstruction of the Large Glass almost entirely on these notes, which he typographically translated into English with George Heard Hamilton in the late 1950s (published London and New York, 1960). Duchamp’s note refers to elements of the Glass’s lower panel never actually completed: drops emanating from splashes that are ‘sent back mirrorically / to the high part of the glass to meet / the 9 shots = / Mirrorical return’. Duchamp later used the phrase on a print he created in 1964, An Original Revolutionary Faucet: Mirrorical Return, comprising a drawing of his most famous readymade, Fountain (1917, see Tate T07573), sandwiched between the title words and the caption ‘a tap that stops dripping when nobody is listening to it’. For Duchamp, it appears that the notion of the mirrorical return is strongly bound up with his interest in the mathematical concept of the fourth dimension. In his art, this hinges on the systems of binaries represented by such oppositions as receptacle-tap (Fountain is a urinal conceptually transformed into a source of water); upright-lying down (the urinal is transformed by being presented laid on its back); positive-negative space; an object and its mirror image; and male-female attributes. The two panels of the Large Glass represent male and female entities; in Hamilton’s print, a real woman appears inside the male panel as though returning in some way to Duchamp’s work.
By emphasising that his process of moving the model from her original position by the window to her place in the glass (in the quote above) was not a reflection, although her image was flipped around a vertical axis in the manner of a reflection, Hamilton evokes the movement of Duchamp’s mirrorical return. In his earlier version of the image, Hamilton had already used a punning reference to Duchamp: the title Passage refers to the painting that leads directly to the Large Glass, The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride 1912 (Museum of Modern Art, New York). He clarified this allusion in his 1998-9 painted version of A mirrorical return by titling it The passage of the bride. He repeated the image again in 2004 with The passage of the bride II.

Hamilton created A mirrorical return on a Quantel Paintbox using digital collage. It was printed by Ian Cartwright on Somerset paper at Circa, London in an edition of fifty plus five artist’s proofs, of which Tate’s copy is the forty-eighth. The edition was distributed by Alan Cristea Gallery, London.

Further reading:
A Bigger Splash: British Art from Tate 1960-2003, exhibition catalogue, Pavilhão Lucas Nogueira Garcez – Oca Parque Ibirapuera and Insituto Tomie Ohtake, São Paulo 2003, pp.94-109, reproduced p.107 in colour.
Richard Hamilton: Retrospective: Paintings and Drawings 1937 to 2002, exhibition catalogue, MACBA, Barcelona and Ludwig Museum, Cologne 2003, pp.96 and 100.
Richard Hamilton: New Technology and Printmaking, exhibition catalogue, Alan Cristea Gallery, London 1998, pp.30 and 35, reproduced p.30 in colour and cover (detail).

Elizabeth Manchester
June 2007

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Display caption

This print was a digital collage, made by layering several images. It depicts a passageway with the lower panel of the Large Glass superimposed as if it was hanging on the wall. The young woman was originally photographed reading by the window. As Hamilton explains, ‘I flipped and laterally reversed her. It is not a reflection, she is ghosted (maybe 70% transparent) into the glass.’ The phrase ‘mirrorical return’ derives from Duchamp’s notes in the Green Box, describing elements that were to have travelled ‘mirrorically’ from one part of the composition to another. It relates to Duchamp’s interest in the fourth dimension.

Gallery label, August 2011

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