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Raymond Duchamp-Villon: The Horse, Artwork & Quotes

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

How do you portray motion in art? Artist Raymond Duchamp-Villon did so by combining elements of animal and machine. In this lesson, explore Duchamp-Villon's sculpture ''The Horse'' and his thoughts on art.

Who Was Raymond Duchamp-Villon?

In the early 20th century, artists were exploring new ways of using art to comment on the changing world around them.

Among them was French sculptor Raymond Duchamp-Villon (1876-1918). As a young man, Duchamp-Villon went to medical school in Paris to become a doctor. But after a serious illness, he went into to art instead. He never formally studied art and was largely self-taught. But the urge ran in the family. He had two brothers, Gustav (who worked under the name Jacques Villon) and Marcel Duchamp, and a sister Suzanne, who also became artists.

Duchamp-Villon and his brothers, circa 1913. From left to right, Marcel Duchamp, Jacques Villon, and Raymond Duchamp-Villon.
Duchamp-Villon and his brothers

Duchamp-Villon's medium was sculpture. At first his work explored the human figure, but he soon moved into abstraction. Abstraction means the art doesn't look like forms found in the real world. And Duchamp-Villon wasn't looking to recreate the human body anyway. As he once commented, ''The sole purpose of the arts is neither description nor imitation, but the creation of unknown beings from elements which are always present but not apparent.''

Raymond Duchamp-Villon, early figural work, circa 1910 - 1911
Early work by Duchamp-Villon

Paris was full of new art ideas at this time. Among them was Cubism, a modern art movement where artists fractured objects into simultaneous faceted viewpoints. Duchamp-Villon used elements of Cubism in his work, one of the first sculptors to successfully do so. He experimented with form and his work became even more abstract. What was his goal? ''An artist's life is nothing more than a search for perfection,'' he said.

The Horse

One of Duchamp-Villon's most famous works is The Horse, on which he was focused beginning around 1913. World War I was raging in Europe, and he was serving in a medical capacity in the military in a cavalry regiment. So he was spending time around horses in an environment where machines were increasingly a part of modern warfare. It must have made an impact, as he wrote in 1913: 'The power of the machine imposes itself upon us and we can scarcely conceive living bodies without it.'

Raymond Duchamp-Villon, The Horse
The Horse

In The Horse, Duchamp-Villon conveys the dynamism of a leaping animal but also merges it into geometry and machinery. He did many sketches and studies, made preliminary models, and studied photographs of horses in motion. The result is a sculpture that echoes both animal and the gears and piston of modern machines. You can feel motion and power.

Another view of The Horse. Can you see the resemblance to machines?
Another view of The Horse

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