Rhett Gérard Poché

A blog devoted to the study of art, art history, and visual literacy.

FRESH WIDOW (not French window)

I am confident that my Visual Literacy students will be up to the challenge of discussing Duchamp’s readymades.  In fact, I think Duchamp’s work will provide us with an excellent exercise in reading and analyzing visual rhetoric.

Duchamp’s readymades investigate the notions of authorship, originality, and craftsmanship (or lack thereof).  They challenge biases that favor more “traditional” approaches to art.  Moreover, and more to the point, love him or hate him, one must note that Monsieur Duchamp was certainly generous to his viewers.

I contend that within the framework of his readymades, Duchamp allows viewers to step into the art-making process to complete his work.  In essence, viewers can embody Duchamp much like he embodied his female alter ego, Rrose Sélavy (Rrose is a discussion for another time).  Therefore, if viewers are part of the act of creation, if viewers relpace the artist himself, then their interpretations, ANY interpretations, become part of the work of art.  Their interpretations ARE the work of art.  In short, one can make Duchamp’s work mean whatever he or she wants it to mean.  The possibilities are endless.  That’s not so challenging, is it?

To prepare for the Visual Literacy discussion of Duchamp’s readymades, I would like to share a few common interpretations of Duchamp’s Fresh Widow—a piece he would have labeled “readymade aided”—a found object that was altered via the application of text and/or an art object that was created by hired craftspeople according to Duchamp’s specifications.

Fresh Widow is a miniature French window made from a painted wood frame and panes of glass covered with black leather.  The windowsill features the text: FRESH WIDOW—COPYRIGHT—RROSE SÉLAVY—1920.  This piece was reproduced.  Various versions exist.

© 2012 Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris/Estate of Marcel Duchamp

Here are links to resources that provide common interpretations of Fresh Widow:

Tout-Fait: The Marcel Duchamp Studies Online Journal provides an interpretation of Fresh Widow HERE.

MoMA’s interpretation can be found HERE.

Both MoMA and Tout-Fait provide a bit of history and, more importantly, possible interpretations, particularly gendered and Freudian interpretations, of Duchamp’s Fresh Widow.  Although I do agree with these gendered interpretations and, to some extent, their Freudian implications, Fresh Widow, like any other readymade, should be seen from various perspectives.  So, let’s move on.

In 2012, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf examined Fresh Widow in an exhibition and catalog titled Fresh Widow: The Window in Art since Matisse and Duchamp.  More information can be found HERE.  Obviously, there is something important about the nature of Fresh Widow as a miniature French window.

Fresh Widow is not an actual, life-sized French window.  As a miniature representation of a French window, one cannot enter or exit Fresh Widow with ease.  Given that this window is merely a representation of a window, it is likely that Duchamp intended to draw a parallel to other representations of windows or representations that are like windows—paintings and other works of two-dimensional art.

In accordance with the conventions of two-dimensional art, such as linear perspective, we can visually/metaphorically “enter” images as if they are windows onto actual spaces.  Yet, we cannot visually enter Fresh Widow.  The windowpanes are blocked with black leather.  The expectation of an image/scene beyond the glass is eliminated.  The window’s purpose is negated.  It is useless.  The view (the image) is vacant and “dead.”

Could these ideas be part of a visual metaphor that predicted the supposed “death” of painting during the late twentieth century?

The Duchampian notion of “trope as title” also provides additional possibilities for interpretation.  This is one of the reasons why I think his work is so appropriate for a visual literacy course.

Consider the meanings that are derived when we, like Duchamp, rearrange and/or reinterpret the descriptive term, “French window”

FRESH WIDOW=NEW WIDOW/WIDOWER (whose partner has died):

Perhaps the “new widow” is the artist himself/herself.  Perhaps art as we know it, has come to an end.  Art has died.  The widow/widower, Rrose Sélavy/Marcel Duchamp, is left without a partner (his or her art).  Additionally, we could also see this as the art left behind after the passing of the artist.  Can the widow/widower (as the art or the artist left without a partner) remarry?  Does this second marriage represent the theory that viewers can replace Duchamp (the irrelevant or “dead” artist) in the art-making process?


Theoretically, as mentioned earlier, paintings can be seen as analogous to windows.  Perhaps the “fresh painting” is a new form of art—art that does not require manual craftsmanship because it is made with the mind, not with the hand (like a readymade).  Could this allude to the advent of purely conceptual art?


Duchamp wanted viewers to consider the word play almost always evident in the titles given to readymades.  Readymades can be seen as intellectual games and Duchamp was the cheeky gamemaster.  We should play along.

To recap the above interpretations, I have created a “Visual Essay” that I think represents and explains many of the aforementioned theories regarding the meaning of Fresh Widow.  In some cases, images do speak more loudly than words.  Please feel free to comment.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

• Marcel Duchamp. Fresh Widow. Miniature French window, painted wood frame, and panes of glass covered with black leather. 1920. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

• Artist Unknown. Woodcut from Eyn schön nützlich büchlin und underweisung der kunst des Messens (A Fine, Useful Booklet and Instruction in the Art of Measurement) by Hieronymus Rodler, 1531.

• Film still from Rear Window. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. 1954. Paramount Pictures.

• Andrea Mantegna. St. Mark. oil on canvas.1447-1448. Städelsches Kunstinstitut, Frankfurt.

• René Magritte. The Human Condition. oil on canvas.1933. National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.

• Jan Van Eyck. Madonna of Chancellor Rolin (detail). oil on panel. 1415. Musée du Louvre, Paris.

• Illustration from De pictura. Leon Battista Alberti. 1435.

• René Magritte. The False Mirror. oil on canvas.1928. Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Filed under: Visual Literacy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: