(American, born France. 1887–1968)
1920. Miniature french window, painted wood frame, and panes of glass covered with black leather, 30 1/2 x 17 5/8" (77.5 x 44.8 cm), on wood sill 3/4 x 21 x 4" (1.9 x 53.4 x 10.2 cm)
Constructed by a carpenter in accordance with Marcel Duchamp’s instructions, Fresh Widow is a small version of the double doors commonly called a French window. Duchamp was fascinated by themes of sight and perception; here, the expectation of a view through windowpanes is thwarted by opaque black leather, which Duchamp insisted “be shined everyday like shoes.”1 Windows had an important place in the artist’s work. He stated, “I used the idea of the window to take a point of departure, as…I used a brush, or I used a form, a specific form of expression…. I could have made 20 windows with a different idea in each one….”2
Puns and wordplay were also central to Duchamp’s work. By changing a few letters, Duchamp transforms “French window”—which the work resembles in form—into “Fresh Widow,” a reference to the recent abundance of widows of World War I fighters.
Impenetrable to the passage of light.
The shape or structure of an object.
A facial aspect indicating an emotion; also, the means by which an artist communicates ideas and emotions.
What’s in a Name?
An inscription at the base of Fresh Widow reads “COPYRIGHT ROSE SELAVY 1920,” making it the first work to be signed by Duchamp’s female alter ego Rose Sélavy (later spelled Rrose). Duchamp derived the name from the French saying: “éros, c’est la vie”, which means “the sex drive is life.”