Alchemist of the Avant-Garde

The Case of Marcel Duchamp

By John F. Moffitt

Subjects: Religion
Series: SUNY series in Western Esoteric Traditions
Paperback : 9780791457108, 512 pages, August 2003
Hardcover : 9780791457092, 512 pages, June 2003

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Prosecuting the Duchamp Case

1. An Esoteric French Adolescence for Duchamp: Symbolist Culture and Occultism

2. The Invention of the Modern Alchemist-Artist

3. The Cultural Shaping of an Artist-Iconoclast: Duchamp in France, 1887–1915

4. Duchamp's First Experiments in Esoteric and Alchemical Art, 1910–1912

5. Duchamp in New York with Esoteric Patrons and the Large Glass, 1915–1923

6. Alchemical Emblematics and the Ready-Mades, 1913–1923

7. The Esoteric Fourth Dimension and Laws of Chance, 1895–1923

8. The Circle Closes, 1923–1968

Epilogue: The Prosecution Rests




A fascinating book demonstrating the influence of alchemy and esoteric traditions on the mature art of Marcel Duchamp.


Acknowledged as the "Artist of the Century," Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) left a legacy that dominates the art world to this day. Inventing the ironically dégagé attitude of "ready-made" art-making, Duchamp heralded the postmodern era and replaced Pablo Picasso as the role model for avant-garde artists. John F. Moffitt challenges commonly accepted interpretations of Duchamp's art and persona by showing that his mature art, after 1910, is largely drawn from the influence of the occult traditions. Moffitt demonstrates that the key to understanding the cryptic meaning of Duchamp's diverse artworks and writings is alchemy, the most pictorial of all the occult philosophies and sciences.

John F. Moffitt is Professor Emeritus of Art History at New Mexico State University. He is the author of Spanish Painting; Occultism in Avant-Garde Art: The Case of Joseph Beuys; Velázquez, práctica e idea: Estudios dispersos; Art Forgery: The Case of the Lady of Elche; The Arts in Spain; and Picturing Extraterrestrials: Alien Imagery in Modern Mass Culture. He is coauthor (with Santiago Sebastián) of O Brave New People: The European Invention of the American Indian.