[Francis Naumann]
Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and their dog Pipe, Puteaux, 1912. Photographer unknown. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Four members of the Duchamp family—Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Marcel Duchamp and Suzanne Duchamp—became artists who, in their own separate ways, made significant contributions to twentieth-century art. Although it is not unusual for one or two artists to emerge from the same family, four—each differing from the others as much as any artist can—is a remarkable occurrence, one that is modestly but joyfully commemorated in the present exhibition.

All four siblings became interested in pursuing careers in art while still living at home. Their maternal grandfather, Émile Frédéric Nicolle (1830-1894), was a printmaker of considerable talent, best known for a series of engravings depicting the deteriorating streets and alleyways of Old Rouen (1887). His daughter Marie-Caroline-Lucie was the mother of these four artists. Though preoccupied with the task of rearing six children, she spent much of her free time drawing in the margins of books and painting decorative borders on plates, images that display little of the graphic talent possessed by her father. Perhaps more importantly for the influence it had on her children, she hung examples of Émile’s work throughout the family home in Blainville-sur-Crevon (a small village northeast of Rouen in the heart of the Norman countryside) where her husband, Eugène Duchamp, served as the town notary. We can only imagine that Père Duchamp, a respected member of the community, would have wanted his sons to follow his example and pursue a career in law; instead, they were drawn to their mother’s side of the family and became artists. From what we know, he offered little resistance, and eventually encouraged their artistic pursuits, lending them financial support in the form of advances from their inheritances.
Emile Frédéric Nicolle holding a copy of his Vieux Rouen, March 30, 1878. Centre Pompidou, Fonds Jacques Villon.
Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Portrait of M. Duchamp, 1904. Private Collection, Paris. Marcel Duchamp, Portrait of the Artist’s Father, 1910. Philadelphia Museum. Jacques Villon, Portrait of Monsieur Duchamp, 1913. Private Collection, Paris.

As a testimony of their affection for their father, all three of the Duchamp brothers made loving and sensitive portraits of him: Raymond Duchamp-Villon made a sculpted portrait bust in the style of Rodin, Marcel Duchamp a painting of his father seated in an armchair rendered with the brushstrokes of Impressionism and colored with the vibrant hues of Fauvism, and Jacques Villon, painted a highly refined Cubist portrait in the form of an oval, a work that was preceded by a detailed preliminary drawing (on view in the gallery) and followed by a drypoint etching.

In 1952, Marcel Duchamp organized a show for the Rose Fried Gallery in New York called “Duchamp Frères & Soeur: Oeuvres d’Art,” which included examples of his own work as well as those of his two brothers and sister Suzanne (the name given to the present show is a straightforward translation of that title). The Rose Fried show was accompanied by a catalogue with an introduction by Walter Pach, designed by Duchamp in the format of a checkbook (the brochure accompanying the present exhibition is intended to simulate the appearance of that catalogue). In 1957, Duchamp helped James Johnson Sweeney organize a show of the Duchamp brothers for the Guggenheim Museum in New York and, finally, in 1967, Duchamp helped assemble a show called “Les Duchamps” for the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Rouen. Today, a display of work by the Duchamp family fills two galleries in that museum, an honor that befits the major contribution they made to the history of modern art in the twentieth century.