Saturday, 18 February 2012

Before His Time, Whoever He Was

image  image

In 1919, French artist Marcel Duchamp, associated with the Dadaist movement, made a famous parody of the Mona Lisa by adorning a cheap reproduction of the painting with a mustache and goatee. (the card on the left)

To this he added the inscription L.H.O.O.Q., a phonetic game which, when read out loud in French quickly sounds like "Elle a chaud au cul". This can be translated as "She has a hot ass" ---

Imagine my surprise, when in my great-uncle’s postcard album I found a postcard which at first glance seemed to be a parody of Duchamp’s parody of Mona Lisa. But… The Swedish card is postmarked either 1901 or 1907 – long before Duchamp’s famous one!

The mustache and beard were added in ink by the sender, who did not sign the card with his (or her?) name, but obviously expected to be known by the recipient anyway.

Read more in my blog Greetings from the Past.

“The creative act is not performed by the artist alone;
the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world
by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and
thus adds his contribution to the creative act.”
- Marcel Duchamp -


  1. hummm this is interesting, wonder who the card came from and why the drawing on it.

  2. I wonder who was your great-uncle's postcard-sender!?

    Duchamp himself was 'way ahead of his time. Many art-viewers nearly a hundred years later still don't accept their role in art. After all, if a good painting hangs in the forest, with no-one there to see it, is it Art?

  3. I love the sense of humour on the card your great-uncle received. Somehow it seems more spontaneous than Duchamp's work.

    I've always found the 'who was it' problem with family history things - they invite more questions than they answer. But it's fun wondering. My partner is always mulling over in her mind who might have worn her rings (passed down in my family) beforehand and whilst we can answer some of them there are others that must remain a mystery. There is a direct comparison with the cards because the hallmark on the ring also gives a year and we speculate was it X's engagement or Y's 21st birthday... etc.

  4. Fascinating. Although I'd seen the Duchamp before I'd never really thought about it in anything other than the most shallow of ways. Now I've been reading more about him. More education. More enlightenment.

  5. Sandra, Katherine - I'm wondering too! I'll probably never know who sent this card. Remains to be seen though, how much of an expert on old handwritings etc I may have become when I've worked my way through the whole postcard album! If really lucky, perhaps I'll find more clues.

    Scriptor, you're right - I'll probably end up with more questions than answers. But I bet I'll also learn some things I did not expect. Actually I already have.

    GB - Likewise. I have to say I wasn't really familiar with Duchamp either, I just had that image in my head of the bearded Mona Lisa.

  6. This is really interesting. If the mustache and beard were actually the way the card was made, I would think that Duchamp saw it and copied it. I guess it's a mystery we will never find out.


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