Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, and originally titled The Brothel of Avignon):
Is a large oil painting created in 1907 by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881–1973). The work portrays five nude female prostitutes from a brothel on Carrer d’Avinyó (Avinyó Street) in Barcelona. Each figure is depicted in a disconcerting confrontational manner and none are conventionally feminine. The women appear as slightly menacing and rendered with angular and disjointed body shapes. Two are shown with African mask-like faces and three more with faces in the Iberian style of Picasso’s native Spain, giving them a savage aura. In this adaptation of Primitivism and abandonment of perspective in favor of a flat, two-dimensional picture plane, Picasso makes a radical departure from traditional European painting. The proto-cubist work is widely considered to be seminal in the early development of both cubism and modern art. Demoiselles was revolutionary and controversial, and led to wide anger and disagreement, even amongst his closest associates and friends.
Painted in Paris during the summer of 1907, Picasso had created hundreds of sketches and studies in preparation for the final work. He long acknowledged the importance of Spanish art and Iberian sculpture as influences on the painting. The work is believed by critics to be influenced by African tribal masks and the art of Oceania. Although Picasso denied the connection; many art historians remain skeptical about his denials. Several experts maintain that, at the very least, Picasso visited the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro (known today as Musée de l’Homme) in the spring of 1907 where he saw and was unconsciously influenced by African and Tribal art several months before completing Demoiselles. Some critics argue that the painting was a reaction to Henri Matisse’s Le bonheur de vivre andBlue Nude.
At the time of its first exhibition in 1916, the painting was deemed immoral. In the nine years after its creation, Picasso had always referred to it as mon bordel (my brothel) or Le Bordel d’Avignon, but art critic André Salmon, who managed its first exposition, re-titled it Les Demoiselles d’Avignon to lessen its scandalous impact on the public. Picasso never liked Salmon’s title, and would have preferred las chicas de Avignon instead.
Impact of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Although Les Demoiselles had an enormous and profound influence on modern art, its impact was not immediate, and the painting stayed in Picasso’s studio for many years. At first, only Picasso’s intimate circle of artists, dealers, collectors and friends were aware of the work. While many were shocked and some outraged, influential people such as Georges Braque and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler were supportive.
Les Demoiselles would not be exhibited until 1916, and not widely recognized as a revolutionary achievement until the early 1920s, when André Breton (1896–1966) published the work.
Interpretation of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Picasso drew each figure differently. The woman pulling the curtain on the far right has heavy paint application throughout. Her head is the most cubist of all five, featuring sharp geometric shapes. The curtain seems to blend partially into her body. The cubist head of the crouching figure underwent at least two revisions from an Iberian figure to its current state. She also seems to have been drawn from two different perspectives at once, creating a confusing, twisted figure. The woman above her is rather manly, with a dark face and square chest. The whole picture is in a two-dimensional style, with an abandoned perspective.
Much of the critical debate that has taken place over the years centers on attempting to account for this multiplicity of styles within the work. The dominant understanding for over five decades, espoused most notably by Alfred Barr, the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and organizer of major career retrospectives for the artist, has been that it can be interpreted as evidence of a transitional period in Picasso’s art, an effort to connect his earlier work to Cubism, the style he would help invent and develop over the next five or six years.
About Pablo Picasso:
Picasso came into his own as an important artist during the first decade of the 20th century. He arrived in Paris from Spain around the turn of the century as a young, ambitious painter out to make a name for himself. Although he eventually left most of his friends, relatives and contacts in Spain, he continued to live and paint in Spain while making regular trips back to France. For several years he alternated between living and working in Barcelona, Madrid and the Spanish countryside, and made frequent trips to Paris. By 1904, he was fully settled in Paris and had established several studios, important relationships with both friends and colleagues. Between 1901 and 1904, Picasso began to achieve recognition for his Blue period paintings. In the main these were studies of poverty and desperation based on scenes he had seen in Spain and Paris at the turn of the century. Subjects included gaunt families, blind figures, and personal encounters; other paintings depicted his friends, but most reflected and expressed a sense of blueness and despair.
He followed his success by developing into his Rose period from 1904 to 1907, which introduced a strong element of sensuality and sexuality into his work. The Rose period depictions of acrobats, circus performers and theatrical characters are rendered in warmer, brighter colors and are far more hopeful and joyful in their depictions of the bohemian life in the Parisian avant-garde and its environs. While he already had a considerable following by the middle of 1906, Picasso enjoyed further success with his paintings of massive over-sized nude women, monumental sculptural figures that recalled the work of Paul Gauguin and showed his interest in primitive (African, Micronesian, Native American) art. He began exhibiting his work in the galleries of Berthe Weill (1865–1951) and Ambroise Vollard (1866–1939), quickly gaining a growing reputation and a following amongst the artistic community of Montparnasse.
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