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Le Grand Cheval (The Great Horse)

On view

Le Grand Cheval (The Great Horse)

Artist: Raymond Duchamp-Villon (French, 1876 - 1918)

Date: 1914
Medium: Bronze
Dimensions:
Overall: 39 × 23 5/8 × 41in. (99.1 × 60 × 104.1cm)
Signed: On base: 'P. Duchamp-Villon / 1914'
Markings: On back side of base (stamped): 'Susse Fondeur Paris' Back right, lower left (stamped): '5/6'
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object number: 58.4
Label Text
Raymond Duchamp-Villon championed the fusion of art and modern technology. In The Horse, he molded the anatomical parts of the horse's body into a streamlined synthesis of animal and machine. Duchamp-Villon accentuated the tilt of the horse's head to balance the graceful arc of the mane against the thrusting force lines of the mechanized body. The delicate counterpoise of opposing elements endows his mechanical horse with a classic stability and a commanding, potential energy.

Duchamp-Villon intended to enlarge The Horse and have it cast in steel -- the ultimate material of the Machine Age. The outbreak of World War I prevented him from realizing those plans. After his death at the front in 1918, his family authorized posthumous, enlarged bronze editions cast from the seventeen-inch plaster left in the sculptor's studio in Puteaux, France. The Great Horse, measuring approximately one meter high, achieves the intended monumental scale the sculptor had envisioned for his masterpiece.

Judith Zilczer
2005

Text Entries

French sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon championed the fusion of art and modern technology. Inspired by the wonders of industrialization in the Gallery of Machines at the Paris Universal Expositions of 1889 and 1900, he formulated a new artistic credo:  “Seen from a distance the work must live as decoration through the harmony of volumes, planes, and lines, the subject being of little or no importance at all.”[i]  His quest for such a new sculptural language culminated in his best-known work, The Great Horse (1914). 

 

            The novel idea of merging animal and machine into a single compelling vision of dynamic energy originated with Duchamp-Villon’s architectural project, The Cubist House (1913). An early sketch of the Cubist House, ca. 1912 (Musée National d’art moderne, Centre George Pompidou, Paris) includes an equestrian monument at the entrance.[ii]  Duchamp-Villon transformed such traditional sculpture into a vehicle for machine aesthetics in drawings and preliminary sculptural studies on the theme of horse and rider. Ultimately, he focused his efforts on the figure of the horse alone.  In the Small Horse, he translated elements of equine anatomy into machine parts. Through the dynamic pose and pyramidal configuration of the animal's abstract body, Duchamp-Villon fused horse and machine in a solitary, forceful image in The Study of the Horse (Philadelphia Museum of Art).[iii]

 

            Duchamp-Villon was as fascinated by movement as he was by industrial technology.  During the late nineteenth century, scientists had likened living organisms to machines, whose actions could be measured.  By applying that mechanical analogy to the study of movement, French physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) invented a technique of time-sequence photography, known as chronophotography. A one-time medical student, Duchamp-Villon understood the significance of such motion studies, and he translated Marey's vision of the mechanics of life into sculptural form.[iv] In the final version of The Horse, Duchamp-Villon molded the anatomical parts of the horse's body into a streamlined synthesis of animal and machine.  He accentuated the tilt of the horse's head to balance the graceful arc of the mane against the thrusting force lines of the mechanized body. The painter Henri Matisse, who first saw the sculpture in Duchamp-Villon's studio, called The Horse "a projectile."[v]  Yet, unlike the literal expression of movement in Futurist sculpture, Duchamp-Villon's delicate counterpoise of opposing elements endows his mechanical horse with a classic stability and a commanding, potential energy.  Duchamp-Villon intended to enlarge The Horse to a scale of one meter and to have it cast in steel—the ultimate material of the Machine Age.[vi]  The outbreak of World War I prevented him from realizing those plans.  After his death at the front in 1918, his family authorized posthumous, enlarged bronze editions cast from the seventeen-inch plaster left in the sculptor's studio in Puteaux.[vii]  The Great Horse, measuring approximately one meter high, achieves the intended monumental scale the sculptor had envisioned for his masterpiece.

 

 Judith Zilczer



[i] Raymond Duchamp-Villon, “Réponse à une enquête au sujet de La Danse de Carpeaux à l’Opéra,” Gil Blas, September 17, 1912, 4; English translation published in George Heard Hamilton and William C. Agee, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, 1876-1918 (New York:  Walker and Company, 1967), 113.

 [ii] See Judith Zilczer, “Raymond Duchamp-Villon: Pioneer of Modern Sculpture,” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 76, no. 330 (Fall 1980): 15-18, fig. 21 and Bénédicte Ajac and Marie Pessiot, et al., Duchamp-Villon: Collections du Centre Georges Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne et du Musée  des beaux-arts de Rouen (Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou and Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 1998), 96.

 [iii] Zilczer, “Raymond Duchamp-Villon,” 15-18; Marie-Noëlle Pradel de Grandry, “Le Cheval majeur de Duchamp-Villon: recherches et développements, 1911-1918,” La Revue du Louvre et des Musées de France no. 4 (1998): 81-89.

 [iv] See Judith Zilczer, “Un architecte de la sculpture moderne,” in Ajac and Pessiot, Duchamp-Villon, 14.  See also Marta Braun, Picturing Time: The Work of Étienne-Jules Marey (1830-1904) (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992); Margit Rowell, “Kupka, Duchamp and Marey,” Studio International 189, no. 973 (January/February 1975): 48-51.

 [v] Walter Pach, Queer Thing, Painting: Forty Years in the World of Art (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1938), 145.

 [vi] Walter Pach reported the sculptor’s preference for steel in a letter to John Quinn, May 18, 1921, John Quinn Memorial Collection, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations, New York. See also Zilczer, “Raymond Duchamp-Villon,” 17-18.

 [vii]The Horse was first enlarged in 1931 to a height of one meter. In 1966 Marcel Duchamp supervised another enlargement of his brother’s sculpture to a height of one and half meters (59 inches). For the casting history of The Horse, see Judith Zilczer, “Letter about a Review: The Casting History of Duchamp-Villon’s Horse,” Art Bulletin LXXI, no. 1 (March 1989): 156; Ajac and Pessiot, Duchamp-Villon, nos. 47a-c, 48a-c, and 49a-c.

 

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