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Spellbound by Marcel

Duchamp, Love, and Art

Published by Pegasus Books
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

In 1913 Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase exploded through the American art world.  This is the story of how he followed the painting to New York two years later, enchanted the Arensberg salon, and—almost incidentally—changed art forever. 

In 1915, a group of French artists fled war-torn Europe for New York.  In the few months between their arrival—and America’s entry into the war in April 1917—they pushed back the boundaries of the possible, in both life and art.  The vortex of this transformation was the apartment at 33 West 67th Street, owned by Walter and Louise Arensberg, where artists and poets met nightly to talk, eat, drink, discuss each others’ work, play chess, plan balls, organise magazines and exhibitions, and fall in and out of love.  At the center of all this activity stood the mysterious figure of Marcel Duchamp, always approachable, always unreadable.  His exhibit of a urinal, which he called Fountain, briefly shocked the New York art world before falling, like its perpetrator, into obscurity. 

Many people (of both sexes) were in love with Duchamp. Henri-Pierre Roché and Beatrice Wood were among them; they were also, briefly, and (for her) life-changingly, in love with each other.  Both kept daily diaries, which give an intimate picture of the events of those years.  Or rather two pictures—for the views they offer, including of their own love affair, are stunningly divergent.  

Spellbound by Marcel follows Duchamp, Roché, and Beatrice as they traverse the twentieth century. Roché became the author of Jules and Jim, made into a classic film by François Truffaut.  Beatrice became a celebrated ceramicist. Duchamp fell into chess-playing obscurity until, decades later, he became famous for a second time—as Fountain was elected the twentieth century’s most influential artwork. 

Ruth Brandon is an acclaimed novelist and cultural historian. She is the author of Houdini (Random House); The Spiritualists (Knopf), and Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L'Oréal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good (Harper). She lives in London.

Praise for Ruth Brandon:

"As entertaining as the contemporary works of fiction such lives inspired, Brandon displays a keen understanding of a complex educational system that kept its subjects ignorant even while purporting to enlighten.”

– The New Yorker

“[Brandon] never loses her profound empathy and passion for her subjects' travails.”

– Kirkus Reviews

“Brandon's chronicles are poignant. It is important to remember what a great, necessary and arduous achievement the education of women was.”

– The Wall Street Journal

“A masterly survey. Even when donning her sociologist's hat, Brandon is still lively as well as humane. Fairly sizzling with fascination.”

– Washington Times

“As a biographer, she provides brilliantly detailed backgrounds on her subjects, leaving the reader wanting still more. A very interesting look into the struggle to create parity between the sexes in this era. Recommended for both public and academic libraries.”

– Library Journal

"A ripping account of celebrity and magic. Brandon has chosen a fascinating subject and written a book that rises to it superbly. A compelling account of a peculiar life.”

– The Sunday Times (London)

"Brandon paints a fascinating picture of turn-of-the-century America.”

– The Times (London)