Lot 7
  • 7

MARCEL DUCHAMP | Tapis/Piste de courses pour le jeu "Petits chevaux"

100,000 - 150,000 EUR
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  • Marcel Duchamp
  • Tapis/Piste de courses pour le jeu "Petits chevaux"
  • bears an inscription on the reverse
  • 169,8 x 89 cm; 66 7/8 x 35 in.
oil on canvasPainted in 1906-1911.This item will be recorded in the archives of the Association Marcel Duchamp, under the number 10-11.697AO1.


André Mare, Paris
Eric Vène (by descent from the above)
Acquired from the above in 2008


Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Marcel Duchamp-Opera, April-July 1993; catalogue, p. 56, illustrated in black and white
Paris, Pinacothèque de Paris, La Naissance du musée, 26 January-29 May 2011
Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Fondation Maeght, Les Aventures de la vérité, Peinture et philosophie, un récit, 29 June-11 November 2013; catalogue, p. 325, illustrated in colour
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Marcel Duchamp, la peinture même 1910-1923, 24 September 2014-5 January 2015; catalogue, p. 71, illustrated horizontally in colour


Jacques Bon, Promenades d'hier en aujourd'hui, de Paris à Puteaux 1905-1952, Puteaux, 1959; pp. 35-37, mentioned


The canvas is striped lined and undulating gently. Examination under UV light reveals no evidence of retouching. There are significant creases and dents, with associated small paint losses, due to the fact that it was probably rolled in (as visible in the catalogue illustration). There are further paint losses in places, notably at all four corners and along the extreme edges. There is some surface dirt and accidents in places. This work is in overall fair and stable condition.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

"Steeple Chase is an historic artwork by Duchamp. [...] According to André Breton, "in diverting the object from its original purpose, by giving it a new name [...] Duchamp created a new piece of art." Does that then make Steeple Chase the very first readymade?"
Marianne and Pierre Nahon

The Duchamp family liked to indulge in two passions: art and board games. Marcel Duchamp and his brothers, Jacques Villon and Raymond Duchamp-Villon, would spend Sundays at Puteaux with their artist friends, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger and André Mare, delighting in their shared love of games, such as chess and petits chevaux, a game modelled on the horse race, steeplechase. This cloth for the petits chevaux game was painted on canvas by Marcel Duchamp between 1906 and 1911. Kept by the descendants of André Mare, a regular guest at the petits chevaux parties, it was subsequently bought by Marianne and Pierre Nahon, who found it rolled up in an attic. The floor mat was for a game that was played at these famous Sunday parties. Jacques Bon, another regular at these gatherings, evokes the central role of this games track and its rules: "The track was 1.2m long and 60cm wide, divided into equal spaces for games of snakes and ladders or petits chevaux that each player would progress along in turn, according to the number they rolled on the dice. Obstacles were scattered around the playing field, for which there were penalties if you came across one. At the beginning of the game we played with three dice, then after a certain point, with two, before finishing with just one; ten squares before the final post which made the guests very lively and noisy. A tote was organised by Marcel Duchamp, the youngest brother of Villon and Duchamp-Villon. An entrance fee was collected at the start of the game when we lined up our horses, most of which we made ourselves, registered either on the course itself or on the obstacles, and created a collection of fanciful specimens" (Jacques Bon, Promenades d'hier en aujourd'hui – De Paris à Puteaux 1905-1952, 1959, Puteaux, p.35).

Following his brothers' example, Marcel Duchamp also made his own horse, decorated in a black and white chequered pattern, which he named Gambit, in "reference to a tactic in chess where a piece is sacrificed in order to gain a position...It was as if Duchamp had jokingly sacrificed the horse - the knight -, from chess, to win at petits chevaux" (Judith Housez, Marcel Duchamp, 2006). Gambit took position on this stylised track, which was inspired by the steeplechase course at Auteil, and was punctuated with blue squares representing the water jump. A fanatical player, Duchamp took the same approach to creating his own games, notably, chess.
With this unique object, Marcel Duchamp, who observed the cubists' recreational parties in Puteaux, corrupted the childlike spirit of the steeplechase by turning it into a betting game. Thus, driven by his love of games and risk, Marcel Duchamp, perhaps for the first time, transformed an everyday object, which would become a central approach to all his future artwork.