“An artist’s life is nothing more than a search for perfection.” –Raymond Duchamp-Villon1
Driven by a strong intellect, an artistic family and the quest to assert a new mode of sculpture, Raymond Duchamp-Villon was an emerging master when he died at the age of 42 of strep infection contracted during his wartime service as a medical underofficer. Duchamp-Villon had begun his career as a student of medicine rather than art, but an extended bout with rheumatic fever in 1898 caused him to leave his program at Université de Paris just before his graduation. It was during this forced convalescence that Duchamp-Villon found his artistic vocation, as he modelled sculptures for the first time. His older brother Gaston Duchamp initially studied law, but abandoned it to become a painter, changing his name to Jacques Villon. When, five years later, Raymond did the same, he adopted “Duchamp-Villon” as a compromise. (Their younger brother Marcel Duchamp would keep his given name intact.)
Through such works as his bust of esteemed poet Baudelaire (1911), Torso of a Young Man (1910), Maggy (1912), and Large Horse (1914), Duchamp-Villon was one of the first sculptors after Picasso and Braque to champion Cubism. His sculptures fuse tradition and innovation in increasingly dynamic forms. Large Horse (1914), a dynamic hybrid of horse and train, incorporates strong diagonals and simplified geometric forms to evoke a new era with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Duchamp-Villon himself expressed his view of this burgeoning technology:
“The machine’s power is obvious to us and we hardly conceive of living beings without it; we’re strangely moved by the rapid contacts of people and things and unconsciously we grow accustomed to perceiving the force of one through the forces subdued by the other.” 2
Villon and Duchamp-Villon hosted regular meetings at their homes in Puteaux for a group of artists, poets and critics who included Albert Gleizes, Fernand Léger, Jean Metzinger, Francis Picabia, Robert Delaunay, and their younger brother Marcel. Their topics of discussion kept pace with the rapidly changing landscape of the time regarding art, photography, philosophy, poetry, literature, math and science. Duchamp-Villon adopted themes in his sculptures to reflect the new century’s ideas and was selected as an exhibitor alongside his brothers in the landmark 1913 Armory Show in New York City.
Duchamp-Villon: Collections du Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne et du Musée des beaux-arts de Rouen.
Hamilton, George Heard. Raymond Duchamp-Villon, 1876-1918. New York: Walker and Company, 1967.
The Brothers Duchamp: Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Marcel Duchamp. New Haven, Conn.: Eastern Press, 1986.
1George Heard Hamilton, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, (New York: Walker and Company, 1967), 58.
2Annette Michelson, “Swiss Sculptors at the Rodin Museum: Duchamp-Villon at the Louis Carre´ Galerie,” Art International 7(1963), 90.