Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
English: The Ladies of Avignon
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.jpg
ArtistPablo Picasso
Year1907
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions243.9 cm × 233.7 cm (96 in × 92 in)
LocationMuseum of Modern Art. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest, New York City[1]

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (The Young Ladies of Avignon, and originally titled The Brothel of Avignon)[2] is a large oil painting created in 1907 by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso. The work, part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, portrays five nude female prostitutes from a brothel on Carrer d'Avinyó (Avignon Street) in Barcelona. Each figure is depicted in a disconcerting confrontational manner and none is conventionally feminine. The women appear as slightly menacing and rendered with angular and disjointed body shapes. Three figures on the left exhibit facial features in the Iberian style of Picasso's native Spain, while the two on the right are shown with African mask-like features. The racial Primitivism evoked in these masks, according to Picasso, moved him to "liberate an utterly original artistic style of compelling, even savage force."[3][4][5]

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. This proto-Cubist work is widely considered to be seminal in the early development of both Cubism and Modern art.

Les Demoiselles was revolutionary and controversial, and led to widespread anger and disagreement, even amongst the painter's closest associates and friends. Matisse considered the work something of a bad joke, yet indirectly reacted to it in his 1908 Bathers with a Turtle. Braque too initially disliked the painting, yet perhaps more than anyone else, studied the work in great detail. And effectively, his subsequent friendship and collaboration with Picasso led to the Cubist revolution.[6][7] Its resemblance to Cézanne's Les Grandes Baigneuses, Paul Gauguin's statue Oviri and El Greco's Opening of the Fifth Seal has been widely discussed by later critics.

At the time of its first exhibition in 1916, the painting was deemed immoral.[8] The work, painted in Picasso's studio at Le Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre, Paris, was seen publicly for the first time at the Salon d'Antin in July 1916, at an exhibition organized by the poet André Salmon. It was at this exhibition that Salmon, who had already mentioned the painting in 1912 under the title Le Bordel philosophique, gave the work its present title Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (in preference to the title originally chosen by Picasso, Le Bordel d'Avignon) to lessen its scandalous impact on the public.[2][6][9][10] Picasso, who had always referred to it as mon bordel (my brothel),[8] or Le Bordel d'Avignon,[9] never liked Salmon's title, and as an edulcoration would have preferred Las chicas de Avignon instead.[2]

Background and development

Paul Cézanne, Bather, 1885–87, Museum of Modern Art, formerly collection Lillie P. Bliss

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.[11]

Picasso's Rose period masterpiece Boy Leading a Horse, recalls the paintings of both Paul Cézanne and El Greco, both of whom heavily influenced Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

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. The Rose period produced two important large masterpieces: Family of Saltimbanques (1905), which recalls the work of Gustave Courbet (1819–1877) and Édouard Manet (1832–1883); and Boy Leading a Horse (1905–06), which recalls Cézanne's Bather (1885–87) and El Greco's Saint Martin and the Beggar (1597–1599). While he already had a considerable following by the middle of 1906, Picasso enjoyed further success with his paintings of massive oversized 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 communities of Montmartre and Montparnasse.[11]

Picasso became a favorite of the American art collectors Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo around 1905. The Steins' older brother Michael and his wife Sarah also became collectors of his work. Picasso painted portraits of both Gertrude Stein and her nephew Allan Stein.[12]

Gertrude Stein began acquiring Picasso's drawings and paintings and exhibiting them in her informal Salon at her home in Paris. At one of her gatherings in 1905 he met Henri Matisse (1869–1954), who was to become in those days his chief rival, although in later years a close friend. The Steins introduced Picasso to Claribel Cone (1864–1929), and her sister Etta Cone (1870–1949), also American art collectors, who began to acquire Picasso and Matisse's paintings. Eventually Leo Stein moved to Italy, and Michael and Sarah Stein became important patrons of Matisse, while Gertrude Stein continued to collect Picasso.[13]

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