Cycling History

Bicycles Imitating Art?: The Royal Flying Corps “Bicycle Wheel” Telescope Stand, 1918

In a previous post, I wrote about Marcel Duchamp’s first ‘readymade’, the “Bicycle Wheel”, which he created in 1913. Five years later 2nd Lt David McLellan photographed an uncannily similar object at the Royal Flying Corps aerodrome at Rang du Fliers on July 12, 1918.

A telescope on a stand improvised from a front wheel of a bicycle on a wooden tripod. Aerodrome at Rang du Fliers, 12 July 1918. © IWM (Q 12083)

A telescope on a stand improvised from a front wheel of a bicycle on a wooden tripod. Aerodrome at Rang du Fliers, 12 July 1918. © IWM (Q 12083)

Was this an independent invention improvised by a British Army mechanic in the absence of a standard issue telescope stand, a genuine case of life imitating art? Or was it a tongue-in-cheek homage to Duchamp’s seminal work?

"Bicycle Wheel" by Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1951 (third version, after lost original of 1913), The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp

“Bicycle Wheel” by Marcel Duchamp, New York, 1951 (third version, after lost original of 1913), The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Estate of Marcel Duchamp

It seems unlikely that by 1918 the Royal Flying Corps lacked tripods at Rang du Fliers which had been an Aircraft Repair Depot since at least 1917, and in 1918 was the scene of much activity as a locomotive depot was built to support the Allied offensive that was to bring the war to an end. Equally, the improvised stand could have been cobbled together in the early days of the depot’s existence and brought out of storage to make an interesting tableau for the Ministry of Information photographer. Sadly, we will now probably never know the true story behind the picture. If Duchamp ever saw the photograph no doubt he would have been pleased at the seeming practical application of his ‘distraction’.

Men of an anti-aircraft battery using telescopes to verify identification range finders and range table, for the guns at St. Vaast, 13 March 1918. © IWM (Q 8557)

Men of an anti-aircraft battery using telescopes mounted on tripods to verify identification range finders and range table, for the guns at St. Vaast, 13 March 1918. © IWM (Q 8557)

 

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2 comments on “Bicycles Imitating Art?: The Royal Flying Corps “Bicycle Wheel” Telescope Stand, 1918

  1. Jean
    February 10, 2015

    It almost looks like a joke..

    Like

    • aaroncripps
      February 10, 2015

      Indeed. My suspicion is that whomever constructed the stand was aware of Duchamp’s work. That said it would work well as an improvised telescope tripod as it would be possible to rotate it horizontally and vertically.

      Liked by 1 person

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