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Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Pablo Picasso

“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Brothel of Avignon)” is a painting by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso.  It was painted in 1907 and is considered one of the most important works of art of the 20th century.

In this painting, Pablo Picasso abandoned all known forms and representations of traditional art. He used distortion of the female body and geometric forms in an innovative way, which challenged the expectation that paintings will offer idealized representations of female beauty.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Brothel of Avignon) is a large work and took nine months to complete.

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8 Facts You Need to Know About Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

 

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (The Brothel of Avignon)

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Brothel of Avignon), 1907 by Pablo Picasso – 8 Facts You Need to Know About Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

 

1- The painting depicts five nude women in a brothel in Avignon, a street in Barcelona, Spain.

Picasso’s inclusion of nude women in his painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was a radical departure from traditional representations of the female form.

Women had traditionally been portrayed as passive and idealized objects of male desire, and Picasso wanted to challenge that idea by portraying women as active and powerful subjects in their own right. By depicting women in the context of a brothel, Picasso was also highlighting the social and economic structures that kept women marginalized and exploited.

Another reason why Picasso included nude women in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was to experiment with new forms of representation. He was interested in the ideas of African and Oceanic art, and he was looking for new ways to depict the human form that was more expressive and less naturalistic.

 

2- Picasso had to hide his work for a while.

Pablo Picasso kept “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Brothel of Avignon)” in his Montmartre, Paris studio for years after its completion in 1907, due to the mostly negative reactions of his immediate circle of friends and colleagues.

The public was first able to view the painting at the Salon d’Antin in 1916, although a photo of the work appeared in The Architectural Record in 1910.

 

3- It is possible to see the reflections of cubism in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Brothel of Avignon).

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is widely considered to be one of the foundational works of Cubism, a modern art movement that originated in the early 20th century. The painting reflects several key aspects of Cubist art, including the fragmentation and distortion of forms, the use of multiple viewpoints, and the rejection of traditional perspective.

One of the key ways that Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Brothel of Avignon) reflects Cubist ideas is through its fragmentation of forms. The women’s bodies are depicted as a series of geometric planes and shapes that are broken up and rearranged in a highly abstract manner. This fragmentation and abstraction were hallmarks of Cubist art, as artists sought to break down the natural world into its component parts and then reassemble them in new and unexpected ways.

 

It is possible to see the reflections of cubism in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Brothel of Avignon).

 

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Brothel of Avignon) and Cubism.

 

Another way that Les Demoiselles d’Avignon reflects Cubism is through its use of multiple viewpoints. The women’s bodies are depicted from different angles and perspectives, which creates a sense of disorientation and ambiguity. This technique was also central to Cubism, as artists sought to challenge the viewer’s perception of reality and disrupt traditional ideas about space and time.

Finally, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon reflects Cubism in its rejection of traditional perspective. The painting does not conform to traditional rules of perspective, which would dictate that objects closer to the viewer appear larger and more detailed than those in the background. Instead, the women’s bodies are depicted in a highly flattened, two-dimensional manner that emphasizes the surface of the painting rather than creating an illusion of depth.

Overall, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon reflects many of the key ideas and techniques of Cubism, including fragmentation, multiple viewpoints, and the rejection of traditional perspective. The painting was a radical departure from traditional representational art, and it helped to establish Cubism as a major modern art movement.

 

4- African art and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Brothel of Avignon)

The relationship between African art and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is complex and multi-layered. Pablo Picasso was heavily influenced by African art, particularly the masks and sculptures he encountered in the collection of the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris. These works had a profound impact on Picasso’s artistic vision, and he incorporated elements of African art into many of his paintings, including Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

One of the most striking aspects of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is its use of geometric forms and sharp angles. This approach to form was heavily influenced by African art, which often emphasizes stylization and abstraction over naturalism. Pablo Picasso was particularly interested in the way African art used simplified forms to express complex emotions and ideas, and he sought to incorporate this approach into his own work.

The influence of African art on Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is perhaps most evident in the faces of the women depicted in the painting. These faces are highly stylized, with sharply defined features and angular, mask-like shapes. This approach to portraiture was a departure from traditional European art, which had long emphasized naturalistic depictions of the human face

 

African art and The Brothel of Avignon by Pablo Picasso

 

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

African art and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Brothel of Avignon)

 

In addition to its formal elements, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon also reflects the cultural and historical context of the African art that influenced it. The painting was created at a time when European colonial powers were aggressively exploiting and subjugating African societies, and Picasso’s use of African art in the painting can be seen as a response to this historical moment. By incorporating African art into his work, Pablo Picasso was challenging traditional ideas about the superiority of European art and culture, and he was celebrating the beauty and complexity of non-European cultures.

 

5- The Brothel of Avignon is currently housed at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City

It has been in the museum’s collection since 1937 when it was acquired by MoMA‘s founding director, Alfred H. Barr Jr. The painting is widely considered to be one of the most important works of art of the 20th century, and it remains a centerpiece of MoMA’s permanent collection.

 

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6- The painting was originally called “The Brothel of Avignon”

The original title of Pablo Picasso’s painting was indeed “Le Bordel d’Avignon” or “The Brothel of Avignon”. However, when the painting was first exhibited in Paris in 1916, it was shown under the title “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, which translates to “The Young Ladies of Avignon”.

The reasons for the title change are not entirely clear, but there are several theories.

One theory is that the title change was made in order to make the painting more palatable to the conservative tastes of the Parisian art world. The original title, “The Brothel of Avignon”, was considered scandalous and provocative, and it is possible that Pablo Picasso and his supporters believed that the painting would be better received under a more neutral title.

Another theory is that the title change reflects a shift in Picasso’s thinking about the painting itself. The original title emphasizes the seedy and disreputable nature of the subject matter, while the new title emphasizes the youth and innocence of the women depicted in the painting. This shift in emphasis could reflect a deeper artistic and philosophical shift in Picasso’s thinking, as he moved away from a strictly representational style and began to explore more abstract and conceptual approaches to art.

Ultimately, the reasons for the title change are likely complex and multifaceted, and they may reflect a combination of artistic, cultural, and historical factors. Regardless of the title, however, the painting remains one of the most important and influential works of art of the 20th century.

 

7- Henri Matisse’s reaction to the work

The reaction of Henri Matisse to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is a subject of some debate among art historians, as there are few reliable firsthand accounts of his reaction. However, it is generally believed that Matisse was initially taken aback by the painting and may have felt threatened by its boldness and innovation.

At the time that Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was painted, Matisse was already an established figure in the Parisian art world, and he had developed a distinctive style that emphasized bold, expressive color and simplified forms. However, his approach to art was still grounded in the tradition of naturalism and representation, and he was skeptical of the more radical and experimental tendencies of some of his contemporaries.

 

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When Matisse first saw Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, he is said to have been shocked by its angular forms, jarring colors, and confrontational subject matter. Some accounts suggest that he was dismissive of the painting, calling it “an act of aggression” and refusing to engage with its avant-garde sensibility.

Despite this initial reaction, however, Henri Matisse’s relationship with Pablo Picasso and the other artists associated with the development of Cubism evolved over time. While the two artists remained rivals for much of their careers, they also engaged in a fruitful artistic dialogue, exchanging ideas and techniques and challenging each other’s assumptions about art and representation.

In this sense, the reaction of Matisse to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon can be seen as part of a larger historical moment in which artists were pushing the boundaries of traditional artistic conventions and engaging in a dynamic and creative conversation about the nature of art itself.

 

8- Pablo Picasso was deeply impacted by the Tahitian journals of Paul Gauguin and his 1906 art exhibition.

There is no clear evidence to suggest that Picasso was directly influenced by Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian diaries or his 1906 art exhibition when he created Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Gauguin’s work was certainly known and discussed in artistic circles at the time, and his use of exotic and primitive subject matter may have contributed to a larger trend toward “primitivism” in early 20th-century art. However, Picasso’s interest in African masks and sculpture is generally seen as a more direct influence on his development of the Cubist style.

 

Sacred Spring, Sweet Dreams (Nave nave moe), 1894 by Paul Gauguin

 

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That being said, it is possible that Pablo Picasso was aware of Paul Gauguin‘s work and that it may have influenced his thinking in more subtle ways. Both artists were interested in exploring the primitive and the exotic, and both experimented with new approaches to form color and composition.

Moreover, the exhibition of Gauguin’s work in Paris in 1906 was a major event in art history, and it is likely that it had some impact on the broader artistic community of which Picasso was a part.

Ultimately, the relationship between Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Gauguin’s Tahitian diaries is a subject of ongoing debate among art historians, and it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions about the extent of their influence on each other’s work. What is clear, however, is that both artists were engaged in a bold and innovative exploration of the possibilities of art and that their work helped to lay the foundation for many of the artistic developments of the 20th century.

 

In summary, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” is a groundbreaking painting that marked a significant shift in the development of modern art. It depicts five stylized nude women in a brothel in Avignon, heavily influenced by African art, and is known for its sharp angles and exaggerated proportions. It was controversial when it was first exhibited, but is now considered one of the most important works of art of the 20th century.

 

 

References:

  • https://www.pablopicasso.org/avignon.jsp
  • https://www.moma.org/collection/works/79766?sov_referrer=theme&theme_id=5135
  • https://theculturetrip.com/pacific/tahiti-french-polynesia/articles/gauguin-and-tahiti-a-creative-obsession/

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