The original Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, 1917, photographed by Alfred Stieglitz at the 291 after the 1917 Society of Independent Artists exhibit. Stieglitz used a backdrop of The Warriors by Marsden Hartley to photograph the urinal. The exhibition entry tag can be clearly seen.

Duchamp must have been pleased with his work, quite apart from the satisfactory ruckus it caused, because shortly afterwards he arranged to have it photographed by Alfred Stieglitz, taking a good deal of trouble over the result.

This image is the only remaining record of the original object. It was reproduced with an anonymous manifesto the following May in an avant-garde magazine called The Blind Man. The accompanying text made a claim crucial to much later modern art: “Whether Mr Mutt made the fountain with his own hands or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view - created a new thought for that object.” It was this publication as much as the initial scandal which made Fountain famous.

And what happened to the original? The best guess, according to Calvin Tomkins in his biography of Duchamp, is that it was thrown out as rubbish by Stieglitz shortly afterwards (a common fate of Duchamp’s early ready-mades). By a delicious irony that the artist must have enjoyed, all the versions of Fountain now extant - including the one in the Tate show - are not ready-made at all, but carefully crafted hand-made facsimiles of that “Bedfordshire” urinal.

Martin Gayford

The Telegraph: Duchamp’s Fountain: The practical joke that launched an artistic revolution