Art Paper on “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” by Pablo Picasso
“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” is considered to be one of the most outstanding, memorable and notable paintings of the early 20th century. It was one of the many paintings and artworks of Pablo Ruiz y Picasso, who was commonly identified as Pablo Picasso. Picasso was born on 25 October 1881 in Malaga, Spain, and passed on in April 1973 aged 91 (Caws 3). Without a doubt, he is one of the most influential and greatest artists or painters of the 20th century, and this is cemented by his significant contributions to the Cubist Movement that played a crucial role in redefining and reshaping the world of art. Aside from paintings, Pablo focused on activities such as drawing, sculpture, stage design, writing, and ceramics. The paper will address the “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” as the representation of the painter’s creative style.
The argument that “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” was one of the most notable artworks of the early 20th century can be attributed to the unique technique and style used by Picasso . The title of the painting is coined from the French language and can be translated as “The Young Ladies of Avignon”. Created by Picasso in 1907, the original title of the painting was “The Brothel of Avignon” with this highlighting the subject matter of immorality and prostitution in the streets of Avignon, as can be seen from the nudity of the women in the painting. After its display in public in 1916, the painting received criticism from all corners with people linking it to immorality and that it could have a negative influence on viewers especially youths (Picasso 5).
Fig.1. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso,1907, painting, oil on canvas. Museum of Modern Art, New York City.
As can be seen from the painting above, five nude females are portrayed in a manner that can be described as confrontational and discerning. Besides, the females appear in a slightly menacing way with an exhibition of angular and disjointed shapes, which highlights the key technique used by Picasso in most of his paintings. Towards the left of the painting, there are three female figures with facial-like features, and it is believed that the facial features are a representation of the native Spanish Iberian style of art used by Picasso during his early years of art in Spain (Picasso 11). On the right of the painting, two female creatures wearing African masks can be seen, and this is believed to be a representation of the primitivism that influenced Picasso’s early artworks.
It is noteworthy that the five female figures are drawn in different ways, and this is the reason behind the clear distinction of the female features on the left and right of the painting. At the upper right part of the painting, there is a woman who, seemingly, is pulling the curtain which forms the part of the painting. The composition of this female figure with geometric shapes also has a cubist head with the curtain blending partially into her body. On the lower right part of the painting, there is a female figure in a crouching position. Interesting is that specialists state that the artwork has gone through myriads of revisions that have seen this figure change to the observable African-mask figure from the initial Iberian figure. From an artistic perspective, the crouching female figure is drawn from two perspectives, thereby making it appear twisted and confusing. In fact, it is tough for the viewer to determine the direction to which the crouching figure is facing, and this is one of the techniques making the painting stand out.
Immediately above the crouching figure one can observe a female with a leg painted in a manner giving the depiction several points of view concurrently. The technique used in painting the woman’s leg makes it hard for the viewer to distinguish the leg from the negative space around it. In the painting, it can also be seen that the five figures inhabit or occupy a space that projects forward in jagged shards. Other than the five female figures, a pointed slice of melon can be seen at the bottom of the painting, and it appears as though it is placed on an upturned tabletop. The fact that the viewer can relate the material at the bottom to a melon highlights how convincing and unique the painting is.
Every painting has a meaning or is a representation of a particular phenomenon, concept, culture, or practice. It is believed that “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” represents the immorality of women and prostitution practices along Avignon, which is one of the several streets in the city of Barcelona, Spain. Avignon itself was famous for its brothels where women used to engage in prostitution as a way of making a living; this is what Picasso tries to depict or showcase through this painting (McNeese and Picasso 7).
All in all, some of the visual elements of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” include flat and splintered imagery that is coupled with patterns of light and dark, thereby resulting in the creation of a sense of form and space. A collage of different viewpoints is used to create the splayed figure at the bottom right of the painting. Other figures are depicted in a flattened geometric form with emphasis on minimal three-dimensionality. It is also evident that Pablo Picasso employs the line component with the aim of bringing out an apparent shape of the five female figures showcased in the painting. These and other techniques contribute to the creative style of Picasso’s artworks, making them true masterpieces of the 20th century.
Caws, Mary Ann. Dora Maar with & without Picasso: a biography. Thames & Hudson, 2000.
McNeese, Tim, and Pablo Picasso. Pablo Picasso. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006. Internet resource.
Picasso, Pablo. “Les demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907.” Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010).
Picasso, Pablo. Picasso’s: Les Demoiselles D’Avignon. Ed. Christopher Green. Cambridge University Press, 2001.