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Étant donnés: 1° la chute d'eau, 2° le gaz d'éclairage . . . (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas . . . )
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Étant donnés: 1° la chute d'eau, 2° le gaz d'éclairage . . . (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas . . . )

Marcel Duchamp, American (born France), 1887 - 1968

Made in New York, New York, United States, North and Central America


Mixed media assemblage: (exterior) wooden door, iron nails, bricks, and stucco; (interior) bricks, velvet, wood, parchment over an armature of lead, steel, brass, synthetic putties and adhesives, aluminum sheet, welded steel-wire screen, and wood; Peg-Board, hair, oil paint, plastic, steel binder clips, plastic clothespins, twigs, leaves, glass, plywood, brass piano hinge, nails, screws, cotton, collotype prints, acrylic varnish, chalk, graphite, paper, cardboard, tape, pen ink, electric light fixtures, gas lamp (Bec Auer type), foam rubber, cork, electric motor, cookie tin, and linoleum

7 feet 11 1/2 inches × 70 inches × 49 inches (242.6 × 177.8 × 124.5 cm)

© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Succession Marcel Duchamp

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 283, Modern and Contemporary Art, second floor (d’Harnoncourt Gallery)

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of the Cassandra Foundation, 1969

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In 1923, after abandoning The Large Glass, Marcel Duchamp let it be known that he had stopped making art in order to devote himself to his favorite pastime, chess. Thus the news, after Duchamp's death in 1968, that he had actually spent the last two decades of his life working secretly on an elaborate, final project was greeted with universal surprise. Accompanied only by a carefully compiled installation manual, the content of the piece remained mysterious while its bold realism shocked both Duchamp's champions as well as his detractors. In accordance with the artist's final wishes, the piece was acquired by the Cassandra Foundation and offered to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it took its place nearby the artist's other major works in 1969.

Additional information:
  • PublicationTwentieth-Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Duchamp's final masterpiece, Étant donnés, has been described by the artist Jasper Johns as "the strangest work of art in any museum."1 Permanently installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art since 1969, this elaborate assemblage offers an unforgettable and untranslatable experience to those who peep through the two small holes in the old Spanish wooden door. The unsuspecting viewer encounters a spectacular sight: a naked woman lying spread-eagled on a bed of twigs and fallen leaves. In her left hand, this life-size mannequin holds aloft an old-fashioned gas lamp of the Bec Auer type, while behind her, in the far distance, a lush landscape rises toward the horizon. This illuminated backdrop consists of a retouched photograph of a hilly landscape with a dense cluster of trees outlined against a hazy turquoise sky. The only movement in the otherwise eerily still grotto is a sparkling waterfall, actually a flickering light source powered by an unseen motor, which pours into a lake on the right. The waterfall and the illuminating gas lamp are the elements "given" in the enigmatic title, which comes from one of Duchamp's earlier notes for The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), suggesting an intimate connection between the themes of the two works.

    The artist secretly constructed Étant donnés over a twenty-year period, during which it was generally assumed that Duchamp had given up making works of art. The piece was partly assembled from miscellaneous objects the artist collected with the assistance of his wife, Teeny. The couple visited demolition sites for bricks, the countryside around New York for twigs, and a small town near Cadaqués in Spain for the weather-worn door. These elements were transported to the artist's studio on 14th Street in New York, where their presence added to the trompe-l'oeil realism of the assemblage, which makes one think of voyeuristic peep shows or brightly lit dioramas in natural history museums. In accordance with Duchamp's wishes, the existence of Étant donnés became public only after his death, when the piece was installed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art following the artist's instructions. Twentieth Century Painting and Sculpture in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2000), p. 107.

    1) Quoted in Duchamp: A Biography, by Calvin Tomkins (New York: Henry Holt, 1996), p. 451.

* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.