Moustachioed Mona Lisa Earns High at Auction
By Maria Mellor
The Mona Lisa is one of the most famous paintings in the world and, therefore, also one of the most reproduced. Arguably, the most famous modern reproduction is L.H.O.O.Q.—the Mona Lisa of Mona Lisa reinterpretations. The piece by Marcel Duchamp was sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $750,000 last month.
Duchamp’s work with the Mona Lisa started in 1919. In his first production of L.H.O.O.Q. he added a moustache and goatee to a Mona Lisa postcard and added the title at the bottom. The piece that sold at auction was a full-size work made in 1964 at the request of his friend and art dealer Arturo Schwarz. L.H.O.O.Q. when pronounced in French is intended to sound like ‘elle a chaud au cul’, which roughly translates to ‘she is horny’.
Some claim it was Duchamp’s way of drawing attention to the androgyny of the Mona Lisa, while others speculate that he intended to deface the famous painting, thus challenging modern perception of art.
The pre-sale estimate for the painting was €400,000 to €600,000, which it exceeded when it sold for a staggering €632,500.
Duchamp was famous for his ‘readymade’ pieces and adding elements to everyday objects—most famously Fountain (1917) where he presented a urinal signed ‘R.Mutt’. His work was part of the Dada movement that aimed to redefine the meaning of art.
Sotheby’s said: “The choice of the Mona Lisa is far from banal. The fact that this mythical painting by Leonardo da Vinci had become the ultimate symbol of sanctified, museum art did of course serve Marcel Duchamp's cause, and this all the more so because 1919 was the year of the 400th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci's death.
“By choosing the most famous artwork in the world, a national icon in France, Duchamp aimed to desacralise the work of art. As Marcel Duchamp explained himself: ‘in 1919, when Dada was in full swing, and we were tearing down many things, Mona Lisa was the first victim’ (in Duchamp du signe, 1994).”
A total of 110 lots were sold in the same auction, fetching €3.9 million overall. The lots were from American Arthur Brandt’s surrealist collection and included Duchamp’s Boite-en-valise (Box in a Suitcase)—a miniature museum featuring 68 of the artist’s miniaturised works.
Swiss artist Kurt Seligmann almost broke his auction record in the sale as the painting Buste d’homme (c.1932) sold for more than double the upper pre-sale estimate of €80,000, with the hammer going down at €181,250.