Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was completed by Pablo Picasso in 1907 and depicts a scene of prostitutes standing in confident, aggressive poses. The Young Ladies of Avignon is the direct translation of the work into English and it is a highly significant piece within the career of the extraordinary Spanish artist, who himself spent much of his life in France. Several of the faces of the "Demoiselles" resemble African tribal masks and there is a general acceptance that elements of international art influenced Picasso in this work. It is specifically the two faces of the right of the painting which most resemble African masks, although there has also been discussion about the possible influence of Oceania Art on this painting as well.
The portraits of the woman here are all in fractured blocks of colour, as was the style used with cubist art. Picasso was one of the driving forces behind this new style which crept in around the start of the 20th century. It took in elements of classic African art as well as a movement towards abstract art in Europe during the artist's own lifetime. This combination was fresh and contemporary and has retained these qualities ever since, still being highly regarded and much loved by new generations of art fans in the present day. The concentration on expression and colour over precise detail has proven more accessible to those who prefer a more immediate style of art and it is important to recognise that Cubism was certainly not the only movement to possess their characteristics.
In challenging so many accepted principles that had built up within the art world over many centuries, Picasso would inevitably court controversy with this painting. He was particularly young at the time of constructing Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, and so perhaps less concerned about conforming to the stale academic scene, as he may well have seen it. Just 25, he was very much still establishing himself as an artist and was a long way from living the comfortable life that came about later as his reputation developed. He frequented Montmartre at this time which was a lively district of Paris where many young artists would congregate and share ideas, making it perhaps the best place for him to be in what were his formative years as an artist. The Spaniard had found the right atmosphere in which to develop his ideas as well as potentially finded like minded individuals who were also looking to implement new ideas within mainstream European art. One can consider the likes of Modigliani, Miro, Mondrian and more who were dotted around the continent at this time, or soon afterwards, and making similar impacts elsewhere.
Pablo Picasso was an artist who worked with great spontaneity for much of his career, but Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was actually the result of a very carefully planned process of study drawings and brisk paintings that formed the basis of the final composition. He needed to decide upon the stylistic approach before then planning the layout of the final piece and portraiture is a genre which cannot be produced effectively without plenty of practice, even for talented individuals such as Picasso himself. We can also find elements of the influence of Cezanne within this painting, which appear to work closely with the African art of which Picasso had also drawn considerable inspiration. Until the mid-20th century there was not the cultural exchange around the world that we enjoy today, and so it was left to just a few cultural contributions to become fashionable within Europe. Japanese and African art would become two of those, whilst today we appreciate a much wider and richer selection of cultural styles.
"...In this painting, he did away with pre-existing artistic conventions, like naturalism and perspective, hurling even the most forward-thinking viewers into a future they weren’t quite ready for..."MoMA
The French title of this painting translates as The Young Women of Avignon and this relates to Avignon Street within the city of Barcelona. It was here that the artist would see women such as this. It almost resembles the image one might see when looking into the aulluring windows of properties offering these types of services, late at night. However, rather than anything sordid, this painting is contemporary and exciting, distracting us from the content being shown here. The style in which the women are depicted also helps to send our thoughts down alternative avenues, first of which is to concentrate on identifying the different elements of this composition which has been stretched away from normal reality. Picasso himself would find a number of colleagues within France and Spain who joined him on the Cubist journey, though whilst many of them continued to experiment with it's ideas, he would soon be finding new ways to further push the boundaries of modern art.
Cubism was an art form which varied in abstraction. In some cases, the original forms are barely identifiable, where as this painting is fairly clear in describing the scene to us, albeit with an unusual approach. Some of the faces, for example, are directly replaced with African masks. Features of their bodies are captured with lines of dark or light paint, seemingly added right at the end of development. The background captures an indoor setting, though even the hanging cover to the left and the blank area to the right are delivered with an extraordinary flourish of fractal forms that transport us beyond reality, straight into the mind of the artist. His Cubist period was an important part of his career, and this painting can perhaps be considered the highlight, though others to pay respect include iconic further titles such as Three Musicans, Weeping Woman, Guernica and Mediterranean Landscape. Others with run with this new approach throughout the rest of their careers, but he was someone who always challenged himself and once there were no new avenues of expression left within the movement, he would move on.
The wonderful pink tones of flesh within this painting gives it a lifelike finish. The bodies are also wrapped with white sheets in some cases which further brightens the overall painting. In the near foreground is a selection of fruit in a bowl which may not seem significant but it is almost a nod to the most common use of Cubist art, the still life. You will find items such as these repeated throughout the careers of Gris, Braques and also this period of Picasso's career. The faces and bodies are amended from reality, with elongated limbs that remind some of the creative work of El Greco, whilst the eyes of thes women are bulbous, with dominant long noses and lips delivered with just a single line of paint. In some cases they are with pink tones, whilst others have brown masks placed over their faces. There are five figures in total and one cannot help repeatedly looking at this composition, such is its unusual style and the amount of diversion from reality that exists. Even the size of the hands of the woman on the far left leave you in thought and one can be sure that this was not an error by the artist, but a conscious choice that would have been carefully planned.
Those fortunate enough to see this painting in person will get a very different experience to seeing photos of it online. It is over two and a half metres in width and height, meaning each figure is actually larger than they presumbly would have been in real life. This suddenly makes them imposing, almost menacing in appearance and this can only be understood by seeing the piece in person. One comparison could be made with Rothko paintings which purposely engulf the viewer in colour, with each canvas wider and taller than most of those who would see them on display. This can be one of the downsides for certain types of art which simply will not truly be understood until you see them in person, and many still do not have the ability to do this, either due to geographical or financial reasons. Thankfully, in recent years there has been a greater effort to offer free entry to major museums and galleries in order to encourage a much greater and more diverse participation. It also encourages those with just a few minutes spare to pop in whenever they like. Art was always intended to be democratic, and so these opportunities are important. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is on display at the MoMA - please check ahead for details about this venue.
This colourful painting is one of the most popular reproductions from the whole career of artist Picasso, and you can buy it from the links supplied here - simply click on the photograph to find art prints ready to buy. This artwork is a great example of the Cubist approach from Picasso, who was the leader in this newly formed art movement from the early 20th century. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is available from multiple sellers on Amazon, as well as from Art.com, who are our recommended retailer that we have actually used ourselves on several different occasions. You can get Les Demoiselles d'Avignon art prints, posters and stretched canvases from their large catalogue. We do take small commissions on any purchases made directly from the links included within this website. Those sellers also include a vast number of other artists too, and serve another purpose of providing galleries of work that you might not have come across before.
This highly significant artwork is now a part of the impressive collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, USA. Its focus is on modern art in a general sense, and few institutions can boast quite the size or quality found within its permanent display. Indeed, many of the artists with whom Picasso is heavily connected can also be found here, including both those that inspired him as well as those who took his ideas into their own careers. For example, you will find Van Gogh's Starry Night here, as well as a number of paintings from Paul Cezanne and also Marc Chagall (I and the Village). They also hold some notable pieces from Henry Matisse (The Dance I, The Red Studio) as well, who was similarly involved in the use of bright colour palettes and reduced, abstract detail. Those who took it to extremes such as Mondrian and Malevich are also to be found here, just as you might expect, with the likes of Broadway Boogie Woogie and Suprematist Composition: White on White. For those looking to understand the extraordinary changes in European art from the late 19th century to around the 1950s, then MoMA is perhaps the best venue to do this.