Tate Papers ISSN 1753-9854

Through The Large Glass : Richard Hamilton’s Reframing of Marcel Duchamp

Combining art historical and technical perspectives, this paper examines Richard Hamilton’s
1965–6 reconstruction of Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass and the wider repercussions that Hamilton’s actions have had on our understanding of replication and the idea of authorship. The dramatic history of the work is unpacked thoroughly and provides a platform for thinking about the precariousness of materials and meanings, and the slippages that occur when replicas become part of the story of a work, an artist and an institution.

Duchamp has buried himself for many years in the propagation of his achievements through the media of printed reproductions and certified copies, so that now we begin to accept the substitute as the work.
Richard Hamilton, 1964 1

In September 1961 Richard Hamilton conducted an interview with Marcel Duchamp that was later broadcast as part of the BBC’s Monitor series.2 Providing a backdrop to the interview was a full-size photographic transparency of Duchamp’s La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même 1915–23 (The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even), also known as The Large Glass. The image served as a frame for the discussion, but it could also be said that the two protagonists framed the work. After the interview was televised the BBC gave the transparency to Hamilton, a detail that is far from incidental given the role later played by The Large Glass in connecting the lives and legacies of both artists. Indeed, our understanding of the work in Britain is now as much bound up with Hamilton’s activities of the 1960s as it is with Duchamp’s at the beginning of the twentieth century.

From the very outset, interpretations of Duchamp’s Large Glass have been affected by the vicissitudes of its physical state. The work, a complex and ironic representation of human lovemaking as a mechanistic and endlessly frustrating process, was made using oil, lead wire, lead foil, dust and varnish on two large panels of glass, which together make the piece nearly three metres high and two metres wide. The lower glass, slightly larger than the upper, contains the Bachelor Apparatus: a Chocolate Grinder, Glider, Malic Moulds, Sieves and Oculist Witnesses. The Bride Machine above consists of three main parts: Bride, Blossoming and Shots. Duchamp had begun making the sculpture in New York in September 1915 and the collector Walter C. Arensberg bought it in 1918. When Arensberg moved to Los Angeles in 1921 he sold it to Katherine S. Dreier so that it could remain in New York and Duchamp could continue to work on it. It is well documented that Duchamp declared The Large Glass incomplete or definitively unfinished in 1923. The work was also considered too fragile to travel, a concern well founded as it shattered while returning from its first public appearance at the International Exhibition of Modern Art at the Brooklyn Museum in 1927.3

Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) 1915–23

Marcel Duchamp
The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) 1915–23
Estate of Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris 

The whole glass had splintered, with cracks propagating from the upper right section, an area that included nine holes or ‘shots’, which had probably weakened its structure. The work was repaired in 1936 by Duchamp himself using the lead wire and varnish that had helped to hold the pieces together, which he then secured between two sheets of heavier plate glass clamped together by a new steel frame. The ‘marmalade’ effect that the damage had caused was improved upon but cracks were still visible. For Duchamp this change was an acceptable addition, whereas Hamilton later described it as an ‘accidental finality’.4 The Large Glass was exhibited once more at the Museum of Modern Art from 1943 to 1946; Duchamp accompanied the work and repaired it at the museum after some of the glass pieces had slipped out of place during transportation. At Dreier’s bequest it then joined the Arensberg Collection of Duchamp’s works in the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1953. By this time, then, The Large Glass had been declared unfinished, bought, sold, exhibited, broken, repaired and exhibited once more before entering a permanent collection of art where it remains today, cemented into the floor (fig.1).

Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Batchelors, Even (The Large Glass) 1915–23, reconstruction by Richard Hamilton 1965–6, lower panel remade 1985

Marcel Duchamp
The Bride Stripped Bare by her Batchelors, Even (The Large Glass) 1915–23, reconstruction by Richard Hamilton 1965–6, lower panel remade 1985
Tate T02011
© Richard Hamilton and Succession Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2016 

The Large Glass in Tate’s collection, then, cannot be mistaken for the original in Philadelphia. Tate’s Large Glass was accessioned in 1975 as a work by Marcel Duchamp, presented by William N. Copley through the American Federation of Arts (fig.2). Its label refers to the work’s dates as ‘1915–23, reconstruction by Richard Hamilton 1965–6, lower panel remade 1985’. Despite the questions raised by this attribution, the existence of Hamilton’s reconstruction and Tate’s remake have seldom been acknowledged in art historical accounts of The Large Glass, which generally focus on its iconography and chance methods, and relatively little has been published about the complete life story of the work – in all its guises.5 However, Hamilton did document the process of reconstructing the work in the book The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even Again, and the articles ‘Son of the Bride Stripped Bare’ and ‘In Duchamp’s Footsteps’, all of which were published in 1966. It was also elaborated in ‘The Reconstruction of Duchamp’s Large Glass: Richard Hamilton in Conversation with Jonathan Watkins’, published in 1990.6 Furthermore, Tate conservators published a text about their remake of the lower panel in the Conservator in 19877 While all these publications are informative, the time is now right to critically review Hamilton’s involvement in the reconstruction and the impact of conservation procedures on our understanding of the Tate work.

This paper will combine art historical and conservation perspectives to consider how the various reconstructions have been written into the life of The Large Glass, and to what extent they problematise the constitution of the work. Concentrating on how meanings have not only changed but have been splintered, much like the materials employed in the sculpture itself, the case will address the broader questions of originality, authorship and replication precipitated by Duchamp’s work, and the implications they have for conservation studies and art history.

The ‘original replica’

The first replica of The Large Glass was Ulf Linde’s version for the exhibition Rörelse i Konsten (Art in Motion) of 1961 at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. This was soon followed by Hamilton’s reconstruction for the Duchamp retrospective, The Almost Complete Work of Marcel Duchamp, which the British artist curated at the Tate Gallery in London in 1966.8 Both these works were approved and authenticated by Duchamp who added the phrase ‘Pour copie conforme (Certified copy)’ to each. Hamilton even noted in 1990 that while working on The Large Glass he realised that Duchamp was very interested in the idea of replication, revealing that when the older artist came to London to sign the reconstruction he remarked that it would be nice to have three versions.9 In fact, since Duchamp’s death in 1968 three more replicas have been made: one by the students of Tadashi Yokoyama and Yoshiaki Tono at the University of Tokyo in Japan; one by the staff and students at the Collège Louise Michel at Manneville-sur-Risle in France; and another by Ulf Linde with Henrik Samuelsson and John Stenborg in Sweden in 1991–2 in an attempt to improve the first version.10 The original Swedish replica was deemed too vulnerable to travel because in 1977, after years of appearing in Duchamp retrospectives and shortly before the major Duchamp exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, a break in a lower corner formed while the work was in transit.11 By the 1990s, then, five replicas existed and, as Duchamp expert Michael R. Taylor acknowledged in 1994, ‘there is nothing to suggest that this figure will not increase in the future’.12

Technically, any object made with the intention of physically re-creating the appearance of an original work is a copy, and it is worth noting that Duchamp himself authorised the first Linde and Hamilton replicas as certified copies. In the literature on Duchamp the terms ‘replica’, ‘reconstruction’, ‘copy’ and ‘edition’ are used interchangeably to refer to the replication of many of his works, including the readymades. Duchamp himself was generally positive about later versions of The Large Glass but he did note in 1967 that copies were not meant to replace originals, remarking that ‘a copy remains a copy’.13 Hamilton also acknowledged that he himself preferred the term reconstruction as opposed to copy.14 In 1993 art historian Francis M. Naumann attempted to distinguish the terms replica, reconstruction and copy in relation to Duchamp’s works.15 For him, the term ‘replica’ should be used for an object made with the intention of re-creating a single example of a given work; the object should have been selected or physically constructed by Duchamp himself with the intention of emulating the appearance of the original.16 The very nature of the readymade – a manufactured object selected by the artist and given a title – meant that a replica could not necessarily be an accurate facsimile of the original. Naumann continued by claiming that the term ‘reconstruction’ suggests a precise and accurate facsimile of an original: ‘it refers to the involved process of creating a second example of a given painting, sculpture or a work on glass, in which the size and appearance of the original work of art are replicated and the object is faithfully reconstructed in a way that repeats the process and techniques used by the artist himself in creating the original’.17 More recently, other art historians including Martha Buskirk, Amelia Jones and Caroline A. Jones have attempted to clarify similar terms and have acknowledged that the verb ‘to reconstruct’ usually implies the consultation of original plans, scripts, photographs or surviving fragments.18 Accordingly, Hamilton’s version of The Large Glass is both a replica and, as a subcategory of that term, also a reconstruction. While broadly accepting this usage, the key question to be addressed here is how Hamilton went about reconstructing the work and whether this act of re-creation is evident in the material work and its documented history.

In May 1966, nearly five years after the BBC interview, The Large Glass reconstructed by Hamilton was exhibited as The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even Again at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle before travelling down for the Tate Gallery’s Duchamp exhibition. But why was it necessary to remake a work that already existed in two forms, one in Philadelphia and one in Stockholm? It was obviously impossible to borrow Duchamp’s original because of its fragile state and permanent fixture, but Hamilton could have used the recent Swedish replica. Duchamp himself was satisfied with Linde’s full-size version, which was exhibited for the first Duchamp retrospective, by or of Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Selavy, held at the Pasadena Art Museum in 1963. After all, Duchamp himself personally helped to install the work and its place within the historiography of The Large Glass was firmly secured by Julian Wasser in his famous photograph of Eve Babitz and Duchamp playing chess at the museum in front of the work (fig.3).19 For the curator Walter Hopps this replica was included as a reference and in the exhibition catalogue he referred to Linde’s work as ‘The Large Glass / 2nd version (unbroken replica) / c.1961 (Stockholm)’.

Marcel Duchamp and Eve Babitz posing for the photographer Julian Wasser during the Duchamp retrospective at the Pasadena Museum of Art in 1963

Julian Wasser
Marcel Duchamp Playing Chess with Eve Babitz, Pasadena Art Museum 1963
© Julian Wasser 1963
© Succession Marcel Duchamp 

Hamilton attended the Pasadena exhibition and gave a lecture on The Large Glass while there. He had three objections to Linde’s Large Glass; firstly, Linde had not seen the original; secondly, the replica was made from photographs, not the original; and thirdly, the replica was made too quickly. Uncomfortable with using the Swedish replica or photographs of the Duchamp original, which he felt were a poor substitution, Hamilton decided to make a full-scale reconstruction himself. The Tate Gallery trustees were unable to make payments towards the cost of an artwork that did not yet exist, so Hamilton went to New York and contacted William N. Copley, who was a friend of Duchamp. Copley agreed to pay a sum to cover the cost of the materials and, at Hamilton’s suggestion, to give Duchamp an equal amount as a fee. It was made in the Fine Art Department of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne where Hamilton was teaching at the time. Hamilton’s decision to reconstruct The Large Glass would ultimately link his history as an artist with Duchamp’s legacy. It also gave him the opportunity to further their relationship. It has even been suggested that Hamilton’s motives for reconstructing The Large Glass may have been calculated, in that he felt himself to be the rightful heir to Duchamp.20 As with the BBC interview, where The Large Glass framed both artists, the act of reconstructing this major sculpture would forever add a Duchampian veneer to Hamilton’s own work.

But his motives were also practical as well as conceptual. Hamilton claimed his reconstruction would be a ‘recapitulation of intention’, an ‘echo of a masterpiece’.21 Unlike Linde, who had worked from photographs, Hamilton revisited Duchamp’s processes using the detailed documentation in Duchamp’s Green Box 1934 to repeat the various steps the artist had taken to create the original work. The Green Box, together with The Large Glass, comprise the entity known as The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, so it made sense that Hamilton worked from it so closely. The first Green Box, of a signed edition of 300, appeared in 1934 and contained ninety-four replica documents in random order in a flat case, including photographs of The Large Glass, a mini reproduction of The Large Glass itself, the plan and elevation for The Large Glass, notes and drawings relating to the sections never completed, and Man Ray’s photograph, Dust Breeding 1920. Importantly, in 1960 Hamilton published a typographic version of the notes from The Green Box, which he produced collaboratively with art historian George Heard Hamilton.22 The reconstruction of the sculpture, then, seemed to follow logically from Hamilton’s reconstruction of Duchamp’s thought processes. In 2002, when asked why he had reconstructed The Large Glass, Hamilton responded that the process of working with Duchamp between 1957 and 1960 had been very important to him: ‘I worked on the notes of the Green Box as a translator, in a sense’.23 Arguably, Hamilton became a translator of The Large Glass as well, a translator who, in time, as will be argued here, would come to take full ownership of his version of the work.24 Ultimately, Hamilton played a crucial role in Duchamp’s ‘rehabilitation’, serving as the older artist’s translator, decipherer and decoder.25

So how did Hamilton go about retracing Duchamp’s footsteps.26 For Mary Yule, former Assistant Director of the Art Fund, ‘Hamilton’s was the first authentic reconstruction of the making of Duchamp’s Glass’ as he replicated Duchamp’s methods rather than merely copying the appearance of the original.27 In May 2003 Christopher Holden, then Senior Conservator at Tate Britain, referred to Tate’s Large Glass as the ‘original replica’.28 Original and replica, as terms, seem to be at odds with one another, and yet the history of The Large Glass is filled with recreations, reinterpretations and misconceptions regarding authorship and originality.29 Hamilton’s recreation of The Large Glass extended over a period of thirteen months, not Duchamp’s thirteen years or Linde’s three months, returning to Duchamp’s original notes in an attempt to ‘reconstruct procedures rather than imitate the effects of action’.30 The artist revisited processes rather than imitating the look of the original and for Paul Thirkell it should be considered a ‘new prototype’ rather than an exact facsimile.31 For Hamilton himself, ‘this monstrous construction in glass and wire and foil and paint, turns out to be a series of logical steps in a long process of contact with materials – with media’.32 He followed Duchamp’s processes using The Green Box much like a recipe book – equivalent to The Craftsman’s Handbook by the Italian Renaissance painter Cennino d’Andrea Cennini, perhaps – which enabled him to glean information about pigments, working methods, media and themes within the work.

Duchamp had made two studies on glass for parts of the composition, Glider Containing a Water Mill (in Neighbouring Metals) and Nine Malic Moulds, and gave permission for these studies to be remade too so that Hamilton could gain experience in drawing on glass with lead wire and filling these boundaries with paint.33 In addition, Hamilton made two further studies: a small glass of the Sieves, to experiment with a dust breeding process, and another of the Oculist Witnesses. Duchamp felt that these two studies were new and, on his suggestion, were published by Petersburg Press in editions of fifty, signed jointly by Hamilton and himself. This decision illustrates Duchamp’s apparent ease with authenticating other artists’ editions of his work but also represents another instance of Hamilton being written into the life of The Large Glass.

Framing Duchamp

Ulf Linde with Henrik Samuelsson and John Stenborg, Replica of Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by her Batchelors, Even 1991–2

Ulf Linde with Henrik Samuelsson and John Stenborg
Replica of Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by her Batchelors, Even 1991–2
Moderna Museet, Stockholm
Estate of Marcel Duchamp / ADAGP, Paris 

Hamilton paid meticulous attention to the details of Duchamp’s methods and materials but it is also worth considering whether he used his own artistic skill to change anything. Comparing Duchamp’s original Large Glass (1915–23) with the versions by Hamilton (1965–6) and Linde (1991–2; fig.4), the most obvious difference between them is the type of frame used to hold the glass panels in place.34 Whereas Duchamp’s aluminium frame, which he added in 1936, is literally cemented into the gallery floor in Philadelphia, both Hamilton and Linde opted for stand-alone frames. These were meant to facilitate transportation, which is significant in itself as it reflects how these versions had, and have, the potential to travel while also marking them as distinct from the Duchamp original. Hamilton recalled in 2005 that he purposefully screwed the extrusions together rather than welding them as a piece so that the frame could be taken apart and put together again and used in different locations.35 As such, Hamilton’s Large Glass crossed the Atlantic for William Rubin’s Dada, Surrealism and their Heritage exhibition that opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in March 1968, which then travelled to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago later that year.36 It was exhibited by Rubin as a replica. More recently Hamilton’s Large Glass was exhibited at Tate Modern in London and MNAC in Barcelona as part of the Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia show in 2007–8 and at the Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in Munich as part of Marcel Duchamp in München 1912 in 2012.37

In 1991–2 Linde constructed a large wooden frame, one designed to resemble the scale and format of that used by Duchamp and displayed at the Société Anonyme International Exhibition of Modern Art at the Brooklyn Museum from November 1926 to January 1927. Linde’s version, belonging to the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, where he was former director, has been widely shown in recent years. It was exhibited at Palazzo Grassi in Venice in 1993 and at the Centre Pompidou in 2005 when, in fact, Hamilton went to examine Linde’s second attempt at replicating the piece.38 More recently it was included in the exhibition The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns at the Barbican in London in 2013.39 And it was displayed within the permanent collection at the Centre Pompidou from 2014 to 2015. The wooden frame appears solid and sturdy, defining and holding the panels in place while providing a contrast to the transparency of the glass support.

It is Hamilton’s choice of frame that is of interest here as it marks an important departure from the original and, of course, also from Linde’s. Hamilton used aluminium sections that would have been used mainly for constructing shop windows, and supported this framework not with columns built into the floor but by adding semi-circular feet.40 In 2005 he revealed:

I thought since an associated work which is the Glider (Glider Containing a Water Mill (in Neighbouring Metals) 1913–15 is a semi circle and has hinges which look a little bit like the feet round them. I made these semi-circular pieces that screw onto the sides to support them. It seems to me still to be a successful solution because the times I’ve seen struts it doesn’t work for me.41

The significance attributed to the semi-circular shape of the Glider is symptomatic of Hamilton’s take on Duchamp’s Large Glass. This is Hamilton interpreting Duchamp, much as he had with The Green Box, but also Hamilton adding a new component where he believed it to be appropriate.

Hamilton focused on Duchamp’s process and working methods but his techniques and materials did, in some instances, differ slightly. For the Oculist Witnesses, for example, the right-hand section of the lower glass had been silvered on the back and a drawing transferred to the silver by Duchamp through a piece of carbon paper. The silvering was then scraped away up to the drawn lines leaving a brilliantly reflective image. With the help of a cartographer from the geography department of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, Hamilton shortened this long process by means of a silk-screen made from a blocked-in re-drawing of the carbon paper. Pigment screened on to the mirror formed a resist, which allowed the redundant silver to be etched away. Duchamp appears to have been happy with this technique, authenticating its appearance as well as the process.

Another significant difference between Hamilton’s reconstruction and Duchamp’s original is the absence of shattered glass. Hamilton had reservations about replicating the shattering of the original, preferring instead to reproduce The Large Glass as it was ‘prior to its completion by smashing’.42 In 1966 he stated: ‘The breaking was an unpredicted calamity which caused, however, little distress in its victim. This new version is made on armour plate glass – a provision likely to preserve the appearance of its model’s youth’.43 During a conversation with Jonathan Watkins published in May 1990 Hamilton reiterated: ‘it is nice to see the Glass as it was when young. I think the reconstruction serves that purpose’.44 What is interesting here is Hamilton’s assertion that he had created a youthful Large Glass, that this replica of the unbroken work can be regarded retroactively as part of its pre-history and life-cycle. Writing in 1994 Michael R. Taylor was very critical of Hamilton’s decision as he believed chance was not harnessed as a process as it should have been.45 But how practical would it have been for Hamilton to attempt to shatter his reconstruction? Any and every break would have been different, and not the accidental finality Duchamp accepted in the original.

Incidentally, Hamilton owned a copy of Amédée Ozenfant’s Foundations of Modern Art (1931) in which an image of Duchamp’s Large Glass on display at the 1926 Société Anonyme exhibition in Brooklyn – before it was broken in transit – was published, and reproduced this photograph in his version of The Green Box in 1960.46 Today we are acquainted with various reproductions of the original Large Glass but rarely is the Ozenfant image circulated. This is significant in that The Large Glass has been understood as a work that is partly shattered and yet the reconstructions that travel and are viewed worldwide today are supported on unbroken sheets of glass.

Hamilton’s version of The Large Glass remained faithful to most of Duchamp’s processes yet he chose a specific moment in the original work’s history to reconstruct. His decisions were based on a desire for an authenticity of process, and for the work to stay intact. In a sense, Hamilton was trying to make up for the very thing that prevented him from borrowing the original in the first place. Hamilton’s Large Glass was a younger, unbroken version, which had the potential to travel and be exhibited worldwide. In reality, the work remained on loan from William N. Copley to the Tate Gallery until it was requested for the exhibition Dada, Surrealism and their Heritage in 1968. After travelling to the two other exhibition venues it returned to Copley’s apartment in New York until it was presented to the Tate Gallery by Copley in 1975 as a work by Duchamp. The piece had arguably returned to its rightful home. However, by this time the vicissitudes of the work’s authorship had already begun to be written into its complicated history.

‘¾ Duchamp and ¼ Hamilton’

In 1966 art critic Andrew Forge declared that ‘Richard Hamilton’s replica of Duchamp’s Large Glass is nearly complete and already it is clear that the upshot of his devoted study will be nothing less than an addition to the Duchamp oeuvre’.47 However, that same year, Hamilton’s friend, the artist Marcel Broodthaers, remarked that the Tate Gallery did not fully appreciate the fact that they had an original Hamilton.48 In 1981 Tate curator Ronald Alley attributed The Large Glass to Marcel Duchamp and Richard Hamilton in his catalogue entry on the work.49 By 1994 he clarified that The Large Glass was listed under Marcel Duchamp but was described as by Marcel Duchamp and Richard Hamilton:

Its primary interest to the Tate was of course that it was an exceptionally accurate reconstruction of one of the key works of 20th century art which would otherwise be impossible to represent in the collection but the fact that it was made by Richard Hamilton and not Mr Smith or Mr Brown was also an important factor and removed any misgivings that the Trustees might otherwise have had. It would probably be true to say that we thought of it as roughly ¾ Duchamp and ¼ Hamilton (or perhaps 4/5 Duchamp and 1/5 Hamilton).50

For Taylor in 1994, Hamilton’s reconstruction ‘is best understood as a reply to the original work, rather than a copy’, an addition to Hamilton’s oeuvre, rather than to Duchamp’s.51 He believed that Hamilton’s reconstruction should be regarded as ‘an original work of art in its own right for, despite having its genesis in the work of another artist, the end product is an artistic creation rather than an ersatz recreation’.52 And, as has been described, Hamilton the artist did not completely conceal his decision making in the replica, so perhaps the notion of an original Hamilton replica is an appropriate label in this instance.

So how comfortable were the artist and institution to acknowledge Hamilton’s involvement at the time and in the years that followed? In 1990 Hamilton stated, ‘I had the advantage of not having to act creatively. It was simply fulfilling a need of the exhibition’.53 However, following this logic Linde’s replica would have served the same purpose. Regarding his own reconstruction, Hamilton was reluctant to have his name as large as Duchamp’s on the label, revealing in 1994 that, ‘It would be totally absurd to see this as a proper weighting of contribution. The only virtue of the imbalance is that it warns the public’.54 In July 1994 Jennifer Mundy, then Assistant Keeper of the Modern Collection at the Tate, explained that the replica was swiftly rejected for inclusion in the gallery’s 1992 Hamilton exhibition as ‘it was not a work by Hamilton in the same sense as the others’.55 However, it was included in Hamilton’s retrospective exhibition at Tate Modern in 2014, marking a significant shift – and drawing attention to past contradictions – in the museum’s interpretation and presentation of the work.56 This shift may have occurred organically for the museum but it also suggests that the authorship of the work is still unresolved, despite the fact that it is listed on Tate’s website as a work by Marcel Duchamp and can only be accessed online under his name. Of course, the fact that neither artist is here to address the question of authorship renders it more open than ever.

Again and again

Richard Hamilton's shattered Large Glass, 19 June 1984

Photograph of The Large Glass taken at Tate on 19 June 1984 after shattering
Photo © Tate 

Replication has the power to create a break in history, materially and conceptually. However, the disrupted lineage of Tate’s Large Glass has been complicated further. Today, Tate’s work is not the complete piece that Duchamp authenticated and legitimised, nor is it solely Holden’s ‘original replica’, Yule’s ‘authentic reconstruction’, or Thirkell’s ‘new prototype’. In the early hours of 19 June 1984 the lower glass panel of Hamilton’s Large Glass shattered, ‘like a car windscreen cracking’ (fig.5).57 Like Duchamp’s Large Glass, which had shattered in transit on its return from its first public appearance, the fate of the original and the original Hamilton replica seemed uncannily similar. The precariousness of the glass had become a reality once again; hereditary characteristics could not be avoided and the material had failed. Following Taylor, this rupture could perhaps be seen as the chance process Hamilton’s reconstruction needed, with fate again playing its role in the historiography of the work. With Duchamp’s original the damage was not made known to the public for several years. However, Tate’s Large Glass had cracked into approximately two hundred thousand pieces while on display. It is hard to imagine a more dramatic or more literal way of resurfacing the question of the material constitution of the replica and its relation to the original.

The most urgent matter was to secure the work and move it away from the public gallery.58 Once this had been done, decisions about whether conservators should intervene, and how, needed to be made. Duchamp had repaired his Large Glass before but a similar approach was not appropriate here. Only the lead from the damaged area could be transferred safely and it would need reworking during the process. The mirroring, resin and paint elements could not be transferred, making a substantial reconstruction of new material unavoidable. Partial transfer of the image would have also dispersed the damaged original irretrievably, ‘whereas retaining it intact would leave it as an interesting archival relic for reference during the reconstruction of the image and in the future’.59 In August 1984 the Tate decided the best strategy was to make a completely new reconstruction of the bottom half, the damaged Bachelors domain. They felt this the most ‘practical and ethical’ solution, as it would be ‘in effect’ ‘retracing’ Hamilton’s ‘footsteps’. This is an interesting phrase to have chosen as Hamilton had himself retraced Duchamp’s footsteps as acknowledged by Andrew Forge.60 But the motives for re-creation were far removed from Hamilton’s in 1965–6. Whereas Hamilton created his replica as a practising artist and as the curator of a major retrospective exhibition of Duchamp’s work, the subsequent Tate conservation replica was made collaboratively and involved conservators, curators, the director and, after his initial anger at the situation had subsided, Hamilton himself.

Photograph of Tate conservators Christopher Holden and Roy Perry working on the shattered lower panel of The Large Glass

Photograph of Tate conservators Christopher Holden and Roy Perry working on the shattered lower panel of The Large Glass
Photo © Tate 

The aim of the Tate conservators, Christopher Holden and Roy Perry, was to produce a museum replica, not an original artwork. In order to do this Holden went to see the Duchamp original first-hand in Philadelphia, referred to Hamilton’s working drawings and measurements of the original, consulted The Green Box, and examined the damaged glass itself.61 Methods and materials employed in the Tate reconstruction were similar to those used by Hamilton (fig.6). Of note, the first image revisited was the mirrored Oculist Witnesses, which was formed by silvering the glass, silk-screening the image onto it in a protective metallic ink, and washing away the excess silvering with dilute acids. As previously mentioned, this was the technique used by Hamilton in preference to Duchamp’s laborious scraping away of excess silvering from around the shapes. The selection of pigments for the conservation reconstruction followed that of The Green Box and experiments were made based on what Hamilton remembered. Lighter tones were used to take into account the ageing of Hamilton’s original colours. An important factor in all decisions about materials and techniques was the wish to reproduce the appearance of the oil paint, lead and resin in a way that was consistent with the twenty-year-old Bride panel above. The conservation reconstruction was approved by Hamilton in February 1986 and was assembled with its upper panel so it could go back on display in November 1986.

Detail of damaged lower panel taken on 20 June 2012

Detail of damaged lower panel taken on 20 June 2012
Photo © Bryony Bery 

By this point the work, which was already an original replica, became part copy of that replica, which Hamilton originally titled The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even Again. It is worth asking, in this context, why the ‘Again’ in this title seems to have been dropped.62 This in turns begs the question: what would be an appropriate and transparent title for the piece today? The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even Again and Again? Partially Again? Again After a Break? Furthermore, if Hamilton was satisfied with the conservation remake, is it enough to say it was reconstructed and that he approved it, or that Duchamp authorised Hamilton, and Hamilton authorised the Tate conservators?63 Ironically, both Duchamp’s and Hamilton’s attempts to express Duchamp’s complex ideas in permanent physical form have been subjected to dramatic structural ruptures and changes, with the glass seemingly insisting on its own physical precariousness. The shattering of the original, still visible even after it was repaired by Duchamp, produced an acceptable addition for the artist and has been exhibited in the same state since. In contrast, Hamilton and the Tate felt that the crazing of the replica’s glass made the panel illegible and sought to return the work to a ‘coherent image’.64 There is an irony here in that the same structural failings of the glass yielded different responses at different times, and has caused a fault line in our understanding of the work, materially and conceptually. Meanwhile the shattered lower panel, the younger victim, remains preserved in storage (fig.7), an archival example of the technical problems encountered when working with glass.

The visible history of The Large Glass

In Hamilton’s typographic version of The Green Box there is a reference to a subtitle, ‘Delay in Glass’, which suggests that, for Duchamp, The Large Glass was not a picture or a painting on glass, but a delay. It may be an exaggeration to claim Duchamp’s note as a prediction, foreseeing the possibility of replicas or reconstructions, but it nevertheless recalls Hamilton’s assertion that he was making an ‘echo of a masterpiece’, a work that, with the conservation remake, became not once but twice removed from the original. There is a reciprocal relationship between the original and the later version, with Hamilton echoing Duchamp’s artistic processes, and the conservation reconstruction becoming an echo of an echo, a reverberation even. Thinking of the reconstruction and the remake of the reconstruction as a delay adds a temporal element to our understanding of the work: a delay in meaning, a delay in making but also a delay in becoming a material thing. Remarkably, on the reverse of the lower panel of the original Large Glass, in the region of the Chocolate Grinder, Duchamp wrote the word inachevé, meaning unfinished. This French word has associations for artists and art historians concerned with the problem of ‘finish’ in modern art.65 The story of The Large Glass lends multiple meanings to Hamilton’s title for the Tate exhibition, The Almost Complete Work of Marcel Duchamp, which in turn seems to anticipate the fate of The Large Glass as ‘definitively unfinished’.66 That these ideas are part of the Duchampian legacy is certain, but they also relate laterally to the context of the 1960s and concerns with process, precariousness and ephemerality.

Richard Hamilton’s shattered lower panel including the Chocolate Grinder with Marcel Duchamp’s inscription ‘Richard Hamilton/pour copie conforme/Marcel Duchamp/1966’

Detail of the Chocolate Grinder in the shattered lower panel of Hamilton’s Large Glass showing Duchamp’s inscription ‘Richard Hamilton | pour copie conforme | Marcel Duchamp | 1966’
Photo © Tate 

Unfortunately, the piece of lead foil from the upper part of Hamilton’s Chocolate Grinder bearing Duchamp’s inscription ‘Richard Hamilton | pour copie conforme | Marcel Duchamp | 1966’ was part of the damaged panel that the conservators had to remake (fig.8). After much deliberation it was decided that this inscription would be transferred and attached to the conservation reconstruction. To avoid possible damage and to keep it easily removable, this signed lead foil was applied to the back of the new lead foil and not directly onto the wire and paint.67 This gesture in itself marks a major slippage in the authorship and authenticity of the work, with obvious ethical ramifications. As Yule lamented in her unpublished text of 1990, the most complex half technically and iconographically ‘has not felt the hand of the artist or his Master, yet bears Duchamp’s signature’.68 And for Taylor, although the Tate conservators did a remarkable job of reconstructing the lower panel, the inclusion of the label ‘does suggest that what you are looking at today is what Hamilton made and Duchamp approved, when in fact the lower glass section is a complete remake of an earlier replica of a shattered original’.69

The conservators argued that ‘The inscription does not form part of the concept of the work but is a unique addition made by Duchamp in approval of Hamilton’s completed work. It refers to both panels and is thus as relevant to the upper undamaged panel as to the damaged lower panel upon which it happened to be inscribed’.70 They also noted that their remake consisted largely in the realisation of Hamilton’s drawings requiring minimal intervention on their part. Small variations resulting from the handling of the materials do not significantly alter the content of the work, which still represents Duchamp’s concepts as realised by Hamilton.71 The alternative would have been leaving the inscription on the shattered original now kept in storage. In fact, it was Hamilton who suggested the lead foil bearing both his and Marcel Duchamp’s signature be transferred to the new work and not left on his original glass as he regarded this section ‘essentially defunct and worthless’.72 Tate conservators, then, justified their decision by referring to Hamilton’s wish that the continuity of Duchamp’s work be retained. So Hamilton, at this point, was involved as curator and artist of the work and expert for its reconstruction.

When the work first went on display after the lower panel had been reconstructed by the conservators a new label included the following information: ‘the glass to the lower panel shattered in 1984 and was reconstructed in 1985 incorporating the inscription from the 1965 replica’.73 However, over the years, this information has been edited down to the original Duchamp dates, 1915–23, acknowledging a reconstruction by Richard Hamilton in 1965–6 and a lower panel remake in 1985. In the absence of an up-to-date catalogue entry it is not made clear that the reconstruction of 1985 is not a Hamilton reconstruction, nor is a reason for the reconstruction given. But should the conservators’ role ever be fully acknowledged? Hamilton signed off every stage of the conservation reconstruction so, in 2003, Holden felt that it was wrong for the Tate conservation team, including himself, to be acknowledged, stating that, in a sense, it is still a ‘Hamilton and Duchamp work’.74

Little has been written about the break and repair of The Large Glass, Duchamp’s or Hamilton’s. As has been noted, published information about the Tate reconstruction can only be found in a technical journal.75 Hamilton did not mention the material failure or reconstruction in his interview with Jonathan Watkins in 1990 or in subsequent texts or interviews. In their unpublished texts, Taylor and Yule both acknowledged an unease surrounding the Hamilton remake and the conservation reconstruction. Taylor went as far as to suggest that there was a ‘conspiracy of silence’ at the Tate to promote the ‘cult of the artistic genius’ and to avoid any embarrassment.76 This hidden history of The Large Glass reflects a characteristic embedded in the discourse on replication and conservation in general, which is somewhat surprising given the proliferation of replicas in existence, being exhibited and cared for as original works. There does appear to be a continuing nervousness about the question of authorship among artists, art institutions and within art history, leading to a desire to play down the significance of the reconstructions. It is striking, for example, that Tate, Hamilton and Taylor have all played their part in editing out the conservation reconstruction into the story of The Large Glass.

An invisible or hidden replica could be regarded as a controversial or deceptive replica. And yet, as has been shown, there are circumstances where it is deemed appropriate to maintain a fiction, or rather that it would be deceptive to document every intervention (which we would not expect for a painting by Nicolas Poussin, for example). As more replicas and reconstructions are made and exhibited, with some entering collections around the world as the original work or which become the original work after time, their presence needs to be acknowledged visibly and transparently. And, obviously this case is further complicated by the present day work which is a reconstruction and a later remake of part of that reconstruction. Interestingly, soon after Holden and Perry had completed their work the Tate began planning an exhibit devoted to The Large Glass and its new reconstruction. It was to include the reconstructed work, the shattered lower panel displayed horizontally, and a tracing of design components after breaking, as well as Hamilton’s original drawings for the lower panel, various photographs and drawings, 260 slides of the piece breaking and being reconstructed, various materials used in the reconstruction, and notes made of the original glass.77 Unfortunately this exhibit was never realised but its relevance remains important today, even more so perhaps, as all versions of The Large Glass continue to age, and so face the possibility of further structural damage.

The historiography of The Large Glass

In the years leading up to the creation of The Large Glass Duchamp had started using plate glass as a painting palette and discovered that the transparent surface created flat brilliant colours. At the same time it occurred to him that using glass as a support for his paintings could also reduce the deterioration of oil pigments. Later he stated: ‘After a short while, paintings always get dirty, yellow, or old because of oxidation. Now my own colors were completely protected, the glass being a means for keeping them both sufficiently pure and unchanged for rather a long time’.78 Duchamp believed that his colours would be protected from oxidation by painting them on glass and then covering them with lead foil. Unfortunately, the shattering of The Large Glass only exacerbated the oxidising process, allowing the lead red paint and lead foil to react. There is an irony here still registered today in the original, which has aged very badly. This red pigment, originally bright and even in colour, has discoloured dramatically. In his reconstruction, Hamilton considered preventing the deterioration by mixing a red using good quality oil paint, substituting red lead for cadmium. Hamilton noted: ‘We could do it as Duchamp did it so that the cycle of change taking place in his original Glass will be followed by our Glass fifty years behind’.79 The added irony here, of course, is that another cycle of change started in 1985 with the Tate’s conservation remake.

Hamilton was aware that his replica would change over time and was sensitive to the changes that had already taken place in the life of Duchamp’s original Large Glass. He experimented with tin wire instead of lead wire, using it for the Glider study. Tin would have avoided the problems of corrosion but Hamilton admitted he could not use it for The Large Glass as, even with Duchamp’s approval, it was too big a departure and he did not feel comfortable changing the ‘life expectancy of my version of the glass’.80 He was also ‘romantically attached to the beauty of the deterioration in the original’.81 By admitting he was emotionally invested in the materials and their life cycles, Hamilton was not the detached or objective creator of a reconstruction. But his was an honest statement of the state of affairs and is important and significant to the story of The Large Glass. As Holden made clear in 2003: ‘Our Tate Large Glass is very different from the Philadelphia Glass, increasingly so … It was made in the 1960s and is Richard Hamilton’s view of the Large Glass’.82 In other words it reflects Hamilton’s view of Duchamp’s work at a specific moment in history and helped form and influence an understanding of the life expectancy of Duchamp’s Large Glass as well as its own. In 1966 Hamilton declared:

Our Glass, we hope, will remain unbroken so another major difference between it and the Philadelphia Glass is that deterioration in the paint colour caused by breakage of the original, should not occur, so that this one in London will always look like a younger brother – or should we say a Son of the Bride Stripped Bare? – rather than an equivalent of it.83

Perhaps this explains Hamilton’s reluctance to intentionally break the glass as part of his reconstruction as he sought a more youthful version, an idealistic desire that would not, or could not, be fulfilled. Indeed, The Large Glass can be seen as an ‘attempt to create a work of art that would never die’.84 The continuity between Hamilton’s replica and the subsequently produced conservation replica perpetuate this aim but not unproblematically. Like the original, Hamilton’s reconstruction has aged and, along with the later remake, will continue to do so.

It is worth pausing to consider Duchamp’s views on ageing and conservation. Duchamp chose to repair his broken Large Glass and travelled with the work to help install it properly in New York and Philadelphia. In 2000 art historian Mark B. Pohlad focused on Duchamp’s relationship with his works and what he terms, ‘an artist’s post-creative strategies’.85 Pohlad felt Duchamp had an ‘intimate relationship’ with his works in that he personally conserved, repaired, cleaned and preserved them.86 This was all the more necessary with glass, which is obviously more vulnerable to damage than other materials and shows up dirt very clearly. Duchamp’s repair in 1936 involved the restoration of the top inscription, the Nine Shots and the Brides clothes. It was time-consuming and required meticulous attention. Much like the scraps of paper in The Green Box, the broken shards of glass fragmented the meaning of the work. The Large Glass became a mixture of old and new, with Duchamp’s repairs almost but never quite completing the unfinished work. Along with the title the artist also inscribed the words ‘cassé 1931 / réparé 1936’ (broken 1931 / repaired 1936), revealing that, for Duchamp himself, the history of the work, including its restoration, was important to document and mark up visibly.87 Indeed, it is a possible example to be followed by museums displaying Duchamp replicas and reconstructions worldwide today.

Duchamp’s reparations in 1936 coincided with him starting work on his multiples and The Green Box. Both demonstrate his ease with the proliferation and dispersal of his works through editioning and replication, and with the precedent this set for other artists.88 In 1966 Duchamp stated, ‘No painting has an active life of more than 30 to 40 years … it helps me to make that distinction between living art and art history’.89 He believed that artworks could and should die. And the year Hamilton’s replica was exhibited for the first time, Duchamp said that 9 Malic Moulds were ‘senile and [could] no longer travel’.90 Similarly, he remarked that younger artists using ephemeral or perishable materials were ‘killing themselves’ because their works would simply cease to exist, setting themselves up for professional suicide.91 Taking his argument concerning the limited lifespan of works of art to its logical conclusion, he first agreed to the replication of The Large Glass forty years after he finished working on the original (or left it in a state of being ‘definitively unfinished’) and to a series of other editions. 1964 saw the production of the replicas editioned by Arturo Schwarz, which had the look of the originals rather than being multiple editions of standardised readymades, and which, for many, signalled the betrayal of his original intentions. Meanwhile, Linde and Hamilton were given permission to replicate The Large Glass and Duchamp himself was working on his later editions of the Boîte-en-valise (Box in a Suitcase).

When it was completed, Hamilton thought the Tate conservation reconstruction should be left for about a year before being displayed so that the new shiny lead foil backing could start to corrode and match the foil on the existing upper panel, which had a patchy dull matt surface and white lead corrosion. Several months later, however, Hamilton decided that the work could be displayed earlier even though the two areas of lead foil still looked different. Rather than have the fresh lead artificially patinated it was noted that he preferred ‘to allow it to corrode naturally’.92 By 1996, however, Hamilton wanted Tate conservators to speed-up the corrosion process of the lead foil on the remake so as to match the appearance of the upper panel.93 The only signs of ageing on the lead foil were a slight uneven dulling and mattness of its surface and no white corrosion at all.94 In 2003 it was recorded that Hamilton was particularly concerned that the red lead of the Malic Moulds and Chocolate Grinder still looked too fresh. Hamilton had noted that the Philadelphia original was deteriorating and he was deeply concerned that his version would become more authoritative and potentially misrepresent Duchamp’s work.95 By 2009 Hamilton was still worried that the back of the lead foil had not oxidised or tarnished sufficiently and was not consistent with the appearance of the lead in the top panel.96 While the published history of the conservation remake had become hidden, the material object reflected a different story.

Artificially ageing the materials in the lower panel remake could have been an acceptable conservation treatment to achieve a coherent whole, but as this panel was entirely remade, not conserved, there is a strong argument for frankness about this history in order to avoid any misunderstandings. It is noteworthy that Hamilton’s reconstruction has now passed its life expectancy, at least according to Duchamp assessment. If we fall into the trap of equating Hamilton with Duchamp, we can see why Hamilton became increasingly concerned about the fresh appearance of the bottom panel and the coherence of the two sections of his Large Glass. By the early 2000s Hamilton had perhaps become more concerned with his own artistic legacy than he had been when he first embarked on the project. To the untrained eye the discrepancies between the ageing of the upper and lower panels may not have appeared obvious or relevant, but for Hamilton, near the end of his life, it was an issue that needed resolving. There is an added irony here as the shattered lower panel, residing in its case at Tate’s stores, has degraded, with the lead ageing due to acetic acid. In fact Roy Perry, who witnessed the shattering of the glass in 1984, noted that the grey parts of the paint on the Malic Moulds ‘instantaneously’ turned a red lead colour as the oxygen reached the paint through the cracks.97 That is to say the shattered surface and support have enabled Hamilton’s materials to continue to react.

Before Hamilton passed away in September 2011 the issue of the ageing and coherence of The Large Glass was resolved for both the artist and the museum. The Tate conservation team had put forward two possible options: in-house modification of the 1985 lower panel reconstruction, or the provision of a new panel made by Hamilton’s assistant under the artist’s supervision. The former offered the most straightforward approach, not least because another panel would add to the proliferation of component parts. Tate also noted that ‘Hamilton is likely to have a different attitude to making the panel compared to 1965–6. Previously he approached it as “Duchamp” but it may be more “Hamilton” this time’.98 This is a telling observation and one which might also reveal the institution’s concerns regarding the objective status of replicas in general, as well as with Hamilton’s agency and authoritative position in this specific case.

In 2010 Tate conservators were able to create a patina on the lead foil of the lower panel that resembled the existing patina on the upper panel.99 This date is significant, not only because it is a year before Hamilton died, but because it is consistent with Duchamp’s views of the life expectancy of a work of art. What makes this treatment stand apart, though, is the fact that it was carried out in order to achieve the appearance of the aged panel, not to create a newer or younger version. This treatment is thus now bound up in the life of the lower panel, and suggests that a work’s historiography can be reframed conceptually as well as registered materially, incorporating approximation and even fiction where necessary.

In 1994 Taylor distinguished between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ replicas. Under this model the copies of Duchamp’s readymades commissioned by Linde and Schwarz in the 1960s are categorised as ‘soft’ replicas, where craftsmen recreated the appearance and dimensions of the lost readymades using photographs. In contrast, a ‘hard’ replica replicates the procedures that Duchamp followed in his work, resulting in an approximate copy of how the original work would have looked. With regard to Hamilton’s reconstruction, Taylor acknowledged that it was certainly process-driven but he was also very critical, we may recall, of the omission of the chance shattering of the glass. On the other hand, it is surely important to point out that this shattering was not part of Duchamp’s working process, but an acceptable addition. Regarded a failed attempt to fix Duchamp’s Large Glass, the original lower panel of Hamilton’s reconstruction, we now know, succumbed to the same fate and ageing process and is now stored away permanently like a relic. So perhaps Duchamp’s authenticating ‘pour copie conforme’ should have remained in place and not transferred to the later reconstruction.

As Hamilton revealed in 1966: ‘I’ve tried to compromise and produce something which will have a life of its own but which will be a different life. We can’t copy deterioration which has taken place accidentally, but we can set up a situation which may produce some kind of quantitative change between two areas which were originally very similar’.100 The more recent conservation treatment has allowed process and appearance to coalesce, material ageing has been manipulated to even out the quantitative change and make the two areas seem coherent. This suggests we need a more malleable understanding of the replica in this instance, the binary terms ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ are not sufficient. For Hamilton, the accident to Duchamp’s original Large Glass was consistent with the life of that work, ‘an expression Duchamp would have been happy to hear associated with his Bachelor machine’.101 But Hamilton was not so happy for this rupture to occur in his version. His initial anger at the subsequent break only subsided once he realised that the damage had been caused by an inherent fault in the glass rather than any negligence on the museum’s part.

The inherent vice of Tate’s original replica had emanated from an area next to the right wheel of the Chocolate Grinder.102 The technical representative from Pilkington Glass Ltd was in no doubt that the cause of the shattering was ‘spontaneous stress relief’ brought about by the presence of micro-particle impurities of nickel sulphide included in the glass during its manufacture.103 As glass is an amorphous structure, the deformation was sudden and the fault had allowed the cracks to propagate dramatically. As Arturo Schwarz noted in 1969: ‘At one and the same time glass is both one of the hardest extant materials (only diamond and hydrofluoric acid attack it) and one of the most fragile’.104 Even reinforced glass is fragile and weighty with visible and invisible flaws, so that at any moment a glass object can undergo sudden, unexpected, and catastrophic change.105 There is no way of detecting minute impurities so the upper panel of Hamilton’s Large Glass remains, to this day, at similar risk of disintegration.106

The ageing of the reconstruction was a problem for Hamilton during his lifetime but this tells us more about his changing attitudes regarding his own work, rather than Duchamp’s. Again, it is important not to confuse the two artists, or substitute one for the other. We might stop to consider whether shattering is indeed the chance process that is needed to complete all versions of The Large Glass. Only when the materials under their protective glass support are dramatically exposed to air, when the work becomes a victim of its own inherent vice, can its material life actually start. But, as mentioned, smashing the glass is not replicable. By its very nature it has to be left to chance or, indeed, fate. What would happen, then, if another catastrophe occurs to the piece? It is clear that whatever direction is taken, the multiple authors, multiple histories and multiple meanings, all framed precariously by a metal shop fitting, will need to be taken into account.

The ‘almost complete’ Large Glass

The task of organising a Duchamp retrospective outside America posed many problems for Hamilton. A high proportion of the artist’s extant work was fragile, lost, broken or unable to travel, making them, in one sense, prime candidates for replication. Reconstructing Duchamp’s Large Glass was, according to critic Michael Bracewell, ‘a technical and intellectual operation of staggering complexity – at once devoutly, almost perversely concerned with the practicalities of decipherment and craft, yet at the same time inhabiting empyrean realms of psychology, aesthetic philosophy and enacted myth’.107 Hamilton’s work remains a great accomplishment within twentieth-century art history. As a case study it is also an exceptional example of how replicas have been understood more recently in museums and the implications for conservation treatments today. It represents a prime example of the problems regarding the ethics and transparency of replicas, partly because it has been deemed more successful than other comparable examples.108 Indeed, as well as offering a new way of looking at or through the Large Glass, this paper has sought to demonstrate that replication itself is an historical problem, and that historical objects pose problems for and in replication.

If Hamilton was right in 1964 when he said that over time we begin to accept the substitute as the work, what bearing does this have on Hamilton and the central role he played in creating Tate’s Large Glass? Should we substitute Hamilton or the conservator for Duchamp himself? As a Duchamp work The Large Glass circles around particular questions of authorship, but as a material case study these questions extend to replication in general and demonstrate the tangible impact they have on objects. This paper has sought to determine what the act of reconstruction meant in the 1960s and in the 1980s, and what it has meant for the work since, materially and conceptually. The material object, as a reliable witness, has been tested in relation to how the life story of The Large Glass has been told. History and materials change theoretically as well as physically. Tate’s Large Glass has undergone several transformations; it is not simply one piece and, indeed, continues to change, to perform, and perhaps will have to be remade or treated in the future. Now that there is no Duchamp or Hamilton to advise, the fate of different reconstructions and remakes, as well as future victims, is precarious.

The history of Duchamp’s work and The Large Glass in particular is inextricably linked to replicas and substitutes, but so too now is the history of Hamilton’s work and his Large Glass. As Holden noted in 2003: ‘I don’t think it’s the end of the story somehow’.109 With this in mind, The Large Glass could be said to be in a continuous state of almost being complete. The title of Hamilton’s Duchamp retrospective remains an excellent way in to thinking about the physical object and meaning of The Large Glass, its vulnerability, volatility, and material and theoretical precariousness.

This paper has also questioned the shifting historical claims for the replica, the original and the author. It has been seen that all these terms are precarious in themselves and in relation to one another. They all perform, change and distort. But it should not be forgotten that a replica also enables an alternative option for display purposes. Hamilton’s reconstruction was a duplicate rather than a replacement – one does not exclude the other. Here, the disciplines of conservation and art history have been deployed as analytical methodologies to provide detailed material information relevant to the narrative of an artwork, its exhibition life and museum afterlife. Layers of material, layers of understanding and layers of history have all been explored to focus on the interconnectedness of materials, meanings and attitudes.