While "unpacking" Marcel Duchamp's Boite-en-valise (the red box), series F, 1960 (figuratively, of course) I read about his original journey out of France with all of the copies of his work that would later go into the various issues of the Boite – the original limited edition, and the subsequent Series. The Portland Art Museum's is labelled as part of Series F. The internet and legend has it that Duchamp had decided to return from France to the United States because of the advancing Germans in 1941. Duchamp is said to have posed as a cheese merchant and claimed the reproductions in his suitcase to be cheese, in order to smuggle his works through German checkpoints. If you look at Duchamp's life and work from the metaphor of chess that he loved so much, the whole idea of the Boites is like a series of chess moves – idea to have a miniature museum of his work, create reproductions, make announcement of the deluxe edition in 1940, decide to leave Europe, plan and execute removal of the "museum pieces", produce first edition and then subsequent ones with additional reproductions. It's quite a story and the best account I've found so far can be found by clicking here. It's a great read and you'll find out that Series F was put together by none other than Duchamp's stepdaughter, Jacqueline Monnier in Paris. So this piece is quite the world traveler.
You may wonder what this has to do with today's lead image of Duchamp's Coffee Mill (1911). I became fascinated with it when I saw it in the Boite (expanded version) and its relationship to Maria Martins. It turns out that at one point Maria Martins owned the original of this painting as part of her art collection. Martins was a world-renowned sculptor who during the forties was having an affair with Marcel Duchamp. They were artistic soul mates as well as lovers at the same time as she was married to the Brazilian Ambassador to this country. At some point their affair ended. They continued to correspond as artists and friends. That relationship was so strong that Duchamp made it a point that important pieces of his work were hers. The Coffee Mill was one of those pieces. Originally Duchamp painted it for his brother Raymond Duchamp-Villon to hang in his kitchen. The Coffee Mill in the Boite is a pochoir reproduction that Duchamp favored for its accuracy. Perhaps one day, the display at the Portland Art Museum will change and the Coffee Mill will be shown so we won't have to just view it as a speck in the expanded version above. You could of course travel to the Tate in London to see the original that once hung in Raymond's kitchen and was owned by Maria Martins (photo on left). To view the Portland Art Museum's display as you'd see it today click here.