Skip to main content

Large Horse

Raymond Duchamp-Villon

(1876 - 1918) | 985.3

Date : 1914 | Medium : Original plaster cast

Around 1910, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and his brothers Jacques Villon and Marcel Duchamp, together with Fernand Léger and Robert Delaunay, joined forces to help create the Section d’Or (the Golden Section) movement which brought together French Cubist artists, as opposed to the ‘conventional’ cubists such as Picasso and Braque. Around this time time Carpeaux’s La Danse on the façade of the Opéra was deteriorating in the open air and an inquiry was carried out. It prompted Raymond Duchamp-Villon to make public some of his thoughts on sculpture: ‘The true purpose of sculpture is to be architecturally imposing’ and ‘seen from a distance the work must live as decoration through the harmony of volumes, planes and lines, the subject being of little to no importance at all.’

According to Marcel Duchamp, writing in 1966, Horse was destined to illustrate his brother’s new ideas at the 1914 Salon. In the end, he only completed a 44 cm original plaster cast (in the Musée de Grenoble) before his work was definitively interrupted by the war: the artist died in 1918.

However, in 1966, Marcel Duchamp went on to produce this 1.50 m plaster studio trial piece with the help of the sculptor Gilioli. He rechristened it Large Horse (Le Cheval Majeur, in French, is a reference to ‘cheval-vapeur’, horsepower). He entrusted the Susse foundry with the casting of several bronze sculptures, one of which is housed in the Rouen prefecture.

The spherical, cylindrical and cone-shaped sections that make up the sculpture bring to mind connecting rods, pulleys and axles and are arranged on the basis of a functional analysis of the animal. In the history of art, Large Horse is one of the first, and rare, successful fusions of mechanical movement with the movement of a living being. If there is a suggestion of the horse’s flexible neck, it nevertheless takes a concave form that almost seems to propel it forward. Equally, the determinedly abstract architectonic structure of the whole, with its intersecting points and multiple viewing angles, injects energy into every facet.