Marcel Duchamp, Sonata, 1911
Before Duchamp (1887-1968) was an architect of Dadaism, he explored several styles of painting, including Cubism. This watercolor shows Duchamp's three sisters performing a piece of music, while their mother stands behind them. The harmony of the music is recreated in the harmony created by the union of the deconstructed picture space. The angular shapes that are so common in Cubist paintings fit together to form the whole, not unlike musical voices. Duchamp's gentle tonality and the lightness of the watercolor fit this genre scene and bring to mind a performance on a bright, airy afternoon. At least, that is what appears to be happening here. However, with closer examination and some added knowledge, the peaceful family scene begins to break down. Certainly there is some union between Yvonne playing the piano and Magdalene playing violin, but Suzanne is actually not involved in the music, and sits in the foreground reading. Meanwhile, Duchamp's mother had in fact gone deaf by the time this painted [source], so the impression of a mother presiding over the performance is inaccurate, or at least incomplete. She is unable to hear the music her daughters are making, and therefore unable to engage in the action of the painting. In this light, the piece actually becomes one of separation and our attempts to form connections. While the four picture planes may unite to form this space, the figures remain continually detached from one another.
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