Bibliothèque R. et B. L., Paris (acquired from the widow of the above. Sold: Sotheby's, Paris, Bibliothèque R. et B. L., Dada - Surréalisme, 26th April 2016, lot 229)
Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, London, 1969, no. 328, another example illustrated p. 522
Pierre Cabanne, Les 3 Duchamp: Jacques Villon, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Marcel Duchamp, Paris, 1975, another example illustrated p. 253
Michael Gibson, Duchamp Dada, Paris, 1991, no. 298, another example illustrated p. 232
Arturo Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1997, no. 523, another example illustrated p. 788
Francis M. Naumann, Marcel Duchamp: The Art of Making Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, New York, 1999, no. 6.23, another example illustrated in colour p. 167
Gloria Moure, Marcel Duchamp. Works, Writings and Interviews, Barcelona, 2009, another example illustrated in colour p. 94
An iconic work exemplary of Duchamp's unique wit, Prière de toucher is provocative in several ways. It exposes the voyeuristic nature of art; it subverts the notion of art as being 'retinal', or purely an object of beauty, by appealing to the sense of touch and stimulating the viewer's erotic fantasies. Furthermore, the title that invites the audience to 'please touch' the object is a mocking allusion to the traditional code of behaviour when looking at a work of 'high' art. Depiction of isolated body parts is a recurring theme throughout Duchamp's work, and one that expresses the essence of Surrealism. Whilst Duchamp often used images of fragmented body parts to suggest threat or violence, in Prière de toucher he chose the imagery and materials designed to provoke a sensation of desire and fetishism.
The first owner of the present work was the Surrealist artist, writer and publisher Georges Hugnet, who received the work as a gift from Duchamp. It was through Max Jacob that Hugnet was introduced to Duchamp in 1920, and in 1932 he was invited by André Breton to join the Surrealist group. Hugnet’s first collaboration with Duchamp came in 1936, when Duchamp designed the cover for his book La septième face du dé (‘The Seventh Face of the Die’). In the present work, the inscription Sein-t-Hugnet is a typical Duchampian pun probably alluding to Hugnet’s forced resignation from the Surrealist group in 1939, following a dispute with Breton. The French word ‘sein’ (breast) is a homonym for ‘ceint’ (crowned) as well as for ‘saint (saint, holy), and therefore Sein-t-Hugnet could be read as ‘Saint Hugnet’, crowning the fallen Surrealist with the erotic and ironic halo of an ideological martyr.
Writing about the events of 7th July 1947, Jennifer Gough-Cooper and Jacques Caumont recount: ‘Originally conceived by André Breton and Duchamp earlier in the year, “Le Surréalisme en 1947” opens at the Galerie Maeght, 13 rue de Téhéran, where the exhibition rooms on the first floor have been transformed under Frederick Kiesler’s direction into a succession of strange and fantastic environments. […] It is Duchamp who has designed and realized with Donati’s help the cover for the catalogue: the sensual, three-dimensional Prière de toucher’ (J. Gough-Cooper & J. Caumont, Ephemerides on and about Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Sélavy, London, 1993, n.p., entry for 7th July).
Assembled with the help of the Italian-born American painter Enrico Donati, the catalogue covers demonstrate Duchamp’s interest in adding a tactile dimension to the visual and intellectual experience of handling an exhibition catalogue. This tactile element is augmented by the use of unconventional materials – foam rubber and velvet. With its whimsical humour, this tongue-in-cheek object is a great testament to the subversive spirit of Duchamp’s art. ‘When they started preparing the covers recently in Donati’s studio, there were 999 foam-rubber breasts on the floor to be glued separately by hand. “By the end,” recalled Donati, “we were fed up but we got the job done. I remarked that I had never thought I would get tired of handling so many breasts, and Marcel said, “Maybe that’s the whole idea”’ (ibid., entry for 17th May).
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