• Post-War and Contemporary Even auction at Christies

    Sale 2355

    Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale

    10 November 2010, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 9

    Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)

    Monte Carlo Bond (No. 1)

    Price Realised  


    Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)
    Monte Carlo Bond (No. 1)
    signed, inscribed, numbered and dated 'No 1 Rrose Sélavy M. Duchamp' (lower center); signed with initials 'RS' (on tax stamp)
    Imitated Rectified Readymade--ink, gelatin silver print and printed paper with tax stamp
    12 3/8 x 7 5/8 in. (31.5 x 19.5 cm.)
    Executed in 1924.

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    The artist intended to make 30 individual bonds, from which only eight were realized. This work has been authenticated by Mme. Jaqueline Matisse Monnier and the Association Marcel Duchamp.

    In 1924 Duchamp devised a system of wagering in roulette, whereby his experiments with the laws of chance might be profitably applied to the gambling tables of Monte Carlo. It appears that he first tried to work out the details of this system with the help of his friend and Dada co-conspirator Francis Picabia. From his hotel in Nice, Duchamp wrote to the Parisian collector Jacques Doucet: "I spend the afternoons in the game rooms, and I haven't the least temptation. All that I lost there was done in full consciousness and I have not yet been seized by the 'over-excitement' of the playing hall. Everything about this life amuses me very much and I will explain to you one of my systems upon returning" (Duchamp to Jacques Doucet, Bibliothèque Littéraire Jacques Doucet, March 21, 1924, Universités de Paris [hereafter referred to as BLJD]. Apparently, the system Duchamp was attempting to devise was based on nearly endless throws of the dice, so that profit would be accumulated only through an excruciatingly gradual process. "Every day I have won steadily," he reported in a letter to Picabia, "small sums - in an hour or two. I'm still polishing the system and hope to return to Paris with it completely perfected." But the system Duchamp devised was so time-consuming and boring that it tested even Duchamp's renowned patience. To Picabia he described the operation as "delicious monotony without the least emotion," but to Doucet he wrote: "The slowness of progress is more or less a test of patience. I'm staying about even or else am marking time in a disturbing way for the aforementioned patienceI'm neither ruined or a millionaire and will never be either one or the other"(Duchamp to Doucet, letter dated on "Tuesday 1924," BLJD (Salt Seller, p. 187)).
    Duchamp decided to expand upon its principles and profits by simply increasing the amounts of money wagered. In order to raise the funds required to finance a more ambitiously conceived operation, he planned to issue stocks in his new company - thirty shares at an assigned value of 500 francs each - repayable to investors at the rate of 20 interest over the course of a three-year period. Ownership in the company would be established by the purchase of a bond, a legal document that Duchamp himself carefully designed and issued. The bond features a diagrammatic, overhead view of a roulette table, crowned at the summit by a photo-collaged portrait of Duchamp by Man Ray. Duchamp's features in this photograph are barely discernable; his head is completely enveloped in layers of shaving lather, his hair peaked into two devilish horns, intended, perhaps, as a commentary on the diabolic nature of his enterprise. The mock legality of this bond is further emphasized by a pun - "moustiques domestiques demi-stock" (domestic mosquitoes half-stock) - which is repeated in green ink in a continuous pattern on the background of the bond. According to the "Company Statutes" that appear on the verso of each bond, the purpose of the venture is to exploit an inherent weakness detected within the system used to wager at roulette, based on a cumulative process that "is experimentally based on one hundred thousand throws of the ball." These same statutes promise that if the company is successful, payment of dividends will occur on March 1st of every year, or bi-annually, should shareholders desire (Salt Seller, pp. 185-87).
    The imagery that Duchamp drew upon for the design of this document has never before been explored. For the layout of the roulette table and wheel, he may have relied on a postcard that outlined the general rules of the game. His decision to cast his own features on the bond as some sort of animal must have come from cards that render a variety of anthropomorphic figures marching off to the gambling halls of Monte Carlo. In many cases, the animals are sheep dressed in elegant clothing and, in one case, are shown boarding a train for Monte Carlo, as if to suggest that they are being led unknowingly to slaughter (or, at the very least, about to be sheared or fleeced). Other cards show legions of donkeys with money bags in their hands lining up to enter a casino, while another line of donkeys stream out the exit door, dejected and broke. Perhaps the closest comparison to Duchamp's depiction of himself as a goat is a card that shows four formally dressed rams gathered around a table; the roulette wheel on which they play is made of paper or cardboard, similar to a smaller version of the disk that each sports on his lapel. Below the image appear the words "Rien ne va plus!," the French expression for "No more bets." Duchamp's decision to place his head in the center of the roulette wheel seems to have been inspired by a card that shows a wealthy pipe-smoking pig, who, under his cloven hoof, carries a croupier's instrument for gathering chips on a roulette table.
    As these various items were designed with humorous intent, there is little doubt that Monte Carlo Bond was intended to elicit a like response, although we now know that - for Duchamp and his potential investors - it was also to be understood as a bona fide legal document. Once he had determined the final appearance of the bond, he arranged for it to be printed and made available for purchase. At first, he attempted to solicit prospective investors through advertisement. He sent a sample of the bond to Jane Heap, editor of The Little Review, in hopes that she might consider publicizing the venture in her well-established American literary journal. Heap described the bond in the 1924-25 issue of the magazine, advising readers: "If anyone is in the business of buying art curiosities as an investment, here is a chance to invest in a perfect masterpiece. Marcel's signature alone is worth much more than the 500 francs asked for the share" (J. H[eap], "Comment", The Little Review, 10, no. 2, Autumn and Winter 1924-25, p. 18). Heap then forwarded a sample of the bond to Ettie Stettheimer, Duchamp's good friend and supporter from the time of his first visit to New York. Stettheimer apparently agreed to lend her financial support, for in March 1925 Duchamp wrote to his old friend, noting an important difference between the bonds that carried a legal stamp and those that did not: "Thanks for taking part in my scheme. I have sent you yesterday a bond by registered post, which is the only valid one of those you have seen because it has been stamped. If you have another (by Jane Heap I suppose), keep it as a work of art but the 20 percent will be paid to you on the one which I am sending you at the same time as this letter" (Duchamp to Ettie Stettheimer, March 27 [1925], Yale University Collection of American Literature).
    The distinction Duchamp makes is important, because although all copies of the bond bear the signatures "M. Duchamp" (identified as "an administrator") and "Rrose S©elavy" ("President of the Administrative Council"), only the numbered bonds bearing a fifty-centimes stamp were to be considered legal documents, officially entitling their owners to collect shares in the dividends of the company. The stamps that appear on these documents are identified with numbers corresponding to the issue of the bond, and each bears the initials of the company's president: "R.S." Having observed the professional activities of his father who worked as a notary, Duchamp was familiar with the procedure customarily followed to establish the legality of a document. Years later Duchamp would engage in a similar procedure to elevate common reproductions of his own paintings to the status of original works of art, once again throwing into question the importance that should be assigned to an artist's signature, a concern that recurred in Duchamp's work from the time he introduced the concept of the Readymade.
    Although thirty bonds were issued, it is unlikely that Duchamp found that many investors willing to gamble away their money in this fashion. Besides Ettie Stettheimer, the only known purchasers of the bond were a handful of his friends: Jacques Doucet, the painter Marie Laurencin, Madeleine Tremois (an acquaintance from Rouen), and his dentist, Daniel Tzanck. The present example of the bond is No. 1, and may very well have been the first to sell from the edition (although based on those that are still extant, it is unclear if Duchamp released them in their numbered sequence). It was originally purchased by the well-known fashion photographer George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968), who worked for French Vogue.
    Undaunted by inability to secure investors in his scheme, just before departing for Monte Carlo, Duchamp wrote an optimistic note to Doucet: "I have studied the system a great deal, basing myself on my bad experience of last year. Don't be too skeptical, since this time I think I have eliminated the word chance. I would like to force the roulette to become a game of chess. A claim and its consequences: but I would like so much to pay my dividends." In March he sent Doucet a postcard from Monte Carlo, reporting that he was "delighted with the results (on paper)." From June to September, and for three weeks in December, Duchamp returned to Monte Carlo to continue perfecting his system. "I put off telling you that it is very sunny but cold," he informed Constantin Brancusi sometime in early December. "I am delighted just the same: I just wrote down my system, i.e., everything is ready - and I intend to play vigorously this winter" (M. Duchamp, letter to C. Brancusi, undated [circa early December 1925], in La Dation Brancusi: dessins et archives, Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 2003, p. 117). On December 2nd, he wrote Doucet again, returning only fifty francs on his investment, the first-and, so far as is known, the only-dividend to be paid by this defunct company (See Duchamp's correspondence with Doucet, letter dated January 16, 1925 (Salt Seller, pp. 187-88); postcard dated March 10, 1925 (quoted in A. Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, second revised edition, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1970, p. 491); and letter dated December 2 [1925] (Salt Seller, p. 188)).
    Years after his gambling scheme failed, Duchamp admitted to an interviewer that the gambling scheme he devised was ineffective: he won nothing (quoted in Salt Seller, p. 137). "The system was too slow to have any practical value," he told an audience a few years before his death, "sometimes having to wait a half hour for the propitious figure to appear in the succession of blacks and reds. And the few weeks I spent in Monte Carlo were so boring that I soon gave up, fortunately breaking even" ("Apropos of Myself", quoted in A. d'Harnoncourt and K. McShine, eds., Marcel Duchamp, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1973, p. 297).
    Francis M. Naumann


    George Hoyningen-Huene, Los Angeles
    Bevan Davies Books, New York
    Acquired from the above by the late owner, 1982

    Pre-Lot Text

    The Collection of Robert Shapazian


    R. Lebel, Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1959, pp. 50 and 91, pl. 105 (illustrated).
    C. Tomkins, The World of Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1966, p. 106 (illustrated).
    F. Naumann, "The Monte Carlo Bond," in The Mary and William Sisler Collection, New York, 1984, pp. 200-203 (illustrated in color); reprinted in Étant donné, no. 8, 2007, pp. 258-263 (illustrated in color).
    A. Fischer and D. Daniels, Übrigens sterben immer die anderen: Marcel Duchamp und die Avantgarde seit 1950, Cologne, 1988, p. 90 (illustrated).
    C. Tomkins, Duchamp: A Biography, New York, 1996, pp. 260-261, 269 and 309 (illustrated).
    A. Schwarz, The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp, vol. 2, New York, 1997, p. 703, no. 406 (another example illustrated in color).


    Paris, Galerie Goemans, Exposition de Collages, March 1930, no. 10 (another example exhibited).
    New York, Museum of Modern Art, Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, December 1936-January 1937, no. 225 (another example exhibited).
    Munich, Haus der Kunst, Der Surrealismus, 1922-1942 and Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Le Surréalisme, March-August 1972, no. 139 (no. 134 in Paris; another example exhibited).
    Philadelphia Museum of Art; New York, The Museum of Modern Art and The Art Institute of Chicago, Marcel Duchamp, September 1973-April 1974, no. 176 (another example exhibited).
    Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, L'Oeuvre de Marcel Duchamp, January-May 1977, no.136 (another example exhibited).
    Barcelona, Fundació Joan Miró; Madrid, Sala de Exposiciones de la Caja de Pensiones and Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Duchamp, February-August 1984, no, 90 (another example exhibited).
    Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Marcel Duchamp, April-July 1993, p. 83 (another example exhibited).