In March 1917, the Philadelphia-based modernist painter George Biddle hired a 42-year-old German woman as a model. She visited him in his studio, and Biddle told her that he wished to see her naked. The model threw open her scarlet raincoat.
Underneath, she was nude apart from a bra made from two tomato cans and green string, and a small birdcage housing a sorry-looking canary, which hung around her neck. Her only other items of clothing were a large number of curtain rings, recently stolen from Wanamaker’s department store, which covered one arm, and a hat which was decorated with carrots, beets and other vegetables.
Poor George Biddle. There he was, thinking that he was the artist and that the woman in front of him, Baroness Elsa von Freytag- Loringhoven, was his model. With one quick reveal the Baroness announced that she was the artist, and he simply her audience…
But is it true to say that Fountain was Duchamp’s work? On 11 April 1917 Duchamp wrote to his sister Suzanne and said that, “One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture; since there was nothing indecent about it, there was no reason to reject it.” As he was already submitting the urinal under an assumed name, there does not seem to be a reason why he would lie to his sister about a “female friend”. The strongest candidate to be this friend was Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven.
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