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Inspiration and influence behind Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

Discuss about the Picasso Les Demoiselles Avignon.

When Picasso moved from Spain to Paris, the time proved to be very important for art history during the 20th century. This is because the great artist used 20th century as models for the faces of the nude women for his 1907 masterpiece “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (Charney, 2014).  Picasso was looking for an intellectual expressionism and thus created a new reality of multidimensional on the two-dimensional canvas. His Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1906-1907) is considered as a revolutionary work of art by the art critics. What is so radical about this artwork?

The essay investigates as to what makes Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon “the first truly twentieth-century painting” and what is so unique about the artwork. The way Picasso treats human figure in this artwork and how he creates tensions in the pictorial space is simply remarkable. Some of Picasso’s earlier working styles are compare to in this paper. The artwork shows significant development of Cubism in Picasso’s work.

According to Brodsky (1986), the female nude has been sculpted and painted since ancient times. It has appeared in many mythological, allegorical or narrative works.  It is debatable if those works were about eroticism or made for the enjoyment of the viewer. The way Picasso has done the painting, it is obvious that he has abandoned all known styles of traditional art representations.  He has distorted the female's body into geometric forms, thus challenging the idealized depictions of female beauty. The oil on canvas also shows the influence of African art on Picasso.

The artist unveiled the great painting after multiple revisions (Pablo Picasso Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 2017).  Picasso started to make rough sketches for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon during the winter1906 and 1907. It is observed that the painter dramatically changed his plans during the preparatory stages. As he had seen examples of African art, one can see the impact on the artwork. Picasso painted the faces and features of the women on the right based after African masks. The face and body of the facially ambiguous nude standing on the right behind the squatting figure seem to have been reworked by Picasso (Florman, 2012).
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon heralded modernism and challenged the art celebrated in the great museums. The painting is motivated by “Three Bathers (1879- 1882)” by Cezanne. For example, the squatting figure from Three Bathers has been incorporated by Picasso in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Sayers, 2007). There is a perspective of a three-dimension created on the two-dimensional canvas, and the viewer gets to conclude four-dimensions when observing the artwork from different points of view. It shows how Picasso was influenced by Henri Poincare, the mathematician. The confrontational nudes done by Manet, Ingres, and Cezanne, seem to culminate with Picasso's Demoiselles. There is a confrontation about stylistic and spatial disunity created by Picasso in the artwork. He was a painter of the human figure and especially the female nude (Brodsky, 1986). Picasso made hundreds of sketches before making the final composition in 1907. The massive eight ft. Square canvas shows his interest in classical nudes and his new found passion for African art (Museum of modern art 2007). This is why one finds asymmetrical and angular figures with splintered planes that clash and contrast in color and style. The artwork incited reactions of shock, anger, and incomprehension among art critics and friends. It is interesting to see how Picasso integrated the statue heads into his very famous paintings, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” which is recognized to be the very first great work of Modernism. It was not for the first time that Picasso was painting prostitutes. He had worked on brothel subjects and used formal distortion before. What makes “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” different is the pictorial depiction and distortions made by the artist (Green, 2001). The artwork was a dramatic shift from the past. Before the Demoiselles became famous, Picasso and the other artists and writers were already under the substantial impact of the artwork.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon marks an essential departure from traditional arrangement and perception in painting. The composition is huge and is like a cinematic close-up and the image is clearly ahead of its time.  There are five naked figures of women, with their bodies made of splintered planes. The faces are inspired by African masks and Iberian sculpture (Pablo Picasso Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 2017). Picasso arranges the figures in a compressed space, and they seem to project forward, like jagged shards of a broken window pane. There is an uncomfortable mosaic of overlapping and angular fragments of five female nudes. While one of them sits in an awkward position in the right, two of them stare provocatively at the viewer. Another woman stands on the right behind the sitting woman, and her face is covered with a primitive mask. The face of the squatting figure is like a poorly arranged jigsaw.  The left-most woman stands stiffly and looks awkward with her locked knee. Her left arm seems dislocated while the right arm juts down. She carries a perfect profile and those almond shaped eyes look huge on her abstracted face and looks at the viewer. The two women in the middle look squarely into the face of the viewer and seem to challenge him with their nudity. The women in varies flesh tones are entangled in silver and blue draperies. The faces of the two women on the right look like African masks. The elbows, hips, breasts and waists of the women with geometrical silhouettes are sharp as knives. There are no curves to be seen. The artist uses varying skin tones to make contrasts. There are deeper tones that suit the urban interior light. Picasso makes use of sharp and jagged forms for the women. The color of their skin adds to their nudity, as they lift their arms or show their bosoms provocatively or flaunt their nudity aggressively.

Along with the five female figures in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, one can see a still life of fruits on drapery lying on an inclined table. There are blue grapes, pear, apple and a slice of pink melon. The fruits at the bottom of the canvas look fiercely pointed and are placed on an upturned tabletop in an impossible position. It is interesting to see how Picasso has arranged the fruits in a sexual grouping. The sharp wedge of pink melon contrasts with the tumbling blue grapes and pears and seem to reflect the punitive joints of the human anatomies (Steefel, 1992).

Cubism in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

There is no clear consensus about cubism, its style, and techniques, among the art historians. However, they agree that Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was the first revolutionary painting that made a major stride towards cubism. By the time the artwork was made, Picasso was over his Blue and Rose periods (Edson, 1982). He was now living in the time of experimentation and rapid changes. Thus, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is looked upon to be the first pivotal step by Picasso towards the new Cubist style (Analysis of Les Demoiselles, 2017). Before that, the artist worked on hundreds of drawings, before getting established as the leader of avant-garde art in Paris. Picasso rejected the traditional method and used Cubism to emphasize the flat, two-dimensional nature of the picture. The Cubist method allowed him to disassemble people and objects and allow them to be seen from different viewpoints as they were arranged in opaque and transparent overlapping planes. It was with gradual experimentation that Cubism developed during the 20th century (Analysis of Les Demoiselles, 2017).The work paved the way for further experimentation and thus motivated Picasso towards Analytical Cubism and Synthetic Cubism based on abstract art. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is credited for being an act of destruction as well as creation. The full-fledged representation of dismantling is said to trigger Cubism (Chave, 1994).

By compressing the space of the canvas, Picasso creates a crude pornography in place of sensual eroticism. The naked figures are placed in an interior space that is almost claustrophobic. The women seem to be trapped in the closed space. Picasso makes use of light and dark contrasts in the shard-like pictorial components to create a sense of space. One can see the angular bodies that are visible under the transparent layers. For example, the left figure is draped in a rose dress and the central figures lift their skirts to show legs. Thus, the artist creates contrasts as to what is hidden and what can be seen (Edson, 1982). He brings the curtains and other surfaces in the background to the front to fill up space.  That increases the forces of tensions and creates an aerial density in the whole canvas. The gradual flattening of pictorial space is seen as an evolution of modernist art as asserted by Chave (1994). The artwork creates a fully flattened Cubist space with a depth that is under stress. Picasso dismantled the traditional geometry of human figure in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and thus began analytic cubism. The decomposition of objects carried their geometric lines to an extreme, thus resulting in angular facets in modified space (Potter, 2003).

Those violent forms and angular shapes with animalistic masks like faces challenge the viewer's normal assumptions. What creates the drama is that there is no connection between the figures and the artwork reflects an uncertainty. There is no expression on the women’s faces, and one can feel the disturbing sensation of violence and sexual power. The absence of perspective, the gigantic nudes, and the disconnected positioning seem to arrest the five figures in time. The three nude women in the artwork contrast with the other two, who seem to be more threatening. This is because Picasso does their faces like masks and thus removes them from the realm of the human (Edson, 1982). Further fragmentation of their body into planes and cross hatching of their faces deforms them all the more. The primitive simplification of the mask like faces shows how the artist tries to detach himself from the emotional perspective of humans.  The five women are frightfully detached and completely unconscious of the presence of one another in the cramped space (Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 2017).Rather, their focus is only on the viewer.

Picasso’s early stylistic experiments show his fascination with Iberian sculpture and African art. The influence can be sent in his masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, which is still at the nascent stages of Cubism. Picasso, in Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, makes a different amalgamation of symbols, experiences, and traditions in the painting. It challenged ‘cultural normativity’ and exposed the anti-thinking consequence of unquestioning conformity with culturally-given images as stated by Sayers (2007). The Iberian faces of the figures and their crudely simplified forms declare Picasso's origins to be against the classical traditions. The cramped space around the prostitutes in their brothel points to their loss of freedom, while the exaggerated sexual display seems to threaten the viewer (Leighten, 1990). Picasso’s own evolution can be seen in how he decides to paint the female body in an innovative way and how he stylizes the fruit bowl to depart from nature. He deforms the female nude into grotesque figures with faces like savage masks Art Analysis (2017).

One of the most notable features of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is the transgression of the accepted ideals of aesthetics. It changed the way human figures were created or looked at, and thus Picasso created an artwork that searched for expression (Edson, 1982). Les Demoiselles d'Avignon draws attention to the art of art itself. The artist has completely deformed the sculpture-like faces, nude bodies, the still fruit life in his canvas. Picasso was very conscious of breaking away from the old traditions of making art. He reinforces the impression of the painting as an art by creating tensions in a static mobility and freezes the moment in the canvas (Edson, 1982). The painting indeed changed everything, for Picasso, his future progress and the art world (Museum of modern art 2007). The picture was a radical act against the domination of Renaissance art.


This was a new way of showing reality, but without the ruling principles of color, shading and perspective (Analysis of Les Demoiselles, 2017). As stated by Leighten (1990), the stylistically done African figures in Les Demoiselles are unsympathetic to the established European culture. The daring transformations made by Picasso to the figures, space, and colors plus, the reference to Africa is an attack on European traditions.

To conclude on the subject, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, indded holds a special place in the world of art and among Picasso’s paintings. The artwork challenged the conventions aesthetics in art and the normal assumptions among the viewer.  It is impossible to ignore those gigantic intrusive nudes with masked faces who create variegated chaos in the space of the canvas with their primitive expressions and abstract bodies.

References

Analysis of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon by Picasso. (2017).visual-arts-cork Retrieved  from https://www.visual-arts-cork.com/paintings-analysis/les-demoiselles-davignon.htm

Art Analysis (2017). Istituto Italiano Edizioni Atlas, 1(1), 1–2.

Brodsky, J. (1986). Delacroix's "le lever," cézanne's "interior with nude," picasso's "les demoiselles d'avignon," and the genre of the erotic nude. Artibus Et Historiae, 7(13), 127-151.

Chave, A. C. (1994). New encounters with les demoiselles d'avignon: Gender, race, and the origins of cubism. The Art Bulletin, 76(4), 596. doi:10.2307/3046058

Edson, L. (1982). A new aesthetic: Apollinaire's 'les fiançailles' and picasso's les demoiselles d'avignon. Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Literatures, 36(2), 115-128. doi:10.1080/00397709.1982.10733488

Florman, L. (2012). insistent, resistant cézanne: On picasso's "three women" and "les demoiselles d'avignon". Source: Notes in the History of Art, 31/32(4/1), 19-26.  doi:10.1086/sou.31_32.4_1.41552781

Green, C. (2001). Picasso’s Les Demoiselles D’avignon. Cambridge University Press, 1(1), 1– 14. Leighten, Patricia. "The White Peril and L'Art Nègre: Picasso, Primitivism, and Anticolonialism." The Art Bulletin, vol. 72, no. 4, 1990, pp. 609-630, doi:10.2307/3045764.

Museum of modern art celebrates picasso's "les demoiselles d'avignon" (2007). Redwood Media  Group.

Charney, Noah. "Pablo Picasso, Ladron De Arte: "El Caso De Las Estatuillas" y Su Papel En La Fundacion De La Pintura Moderna." Arte, Individuo y Sociedad, vol. 26, no. 2, 2014, pp. 187,  doi:10.5209/rev_ARIS.2014.v26.n2.39942.

Pablo Picasso Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. (2017). The Museum of Modern Art Retrieved from  https://www.moma.org/collection/works/79766

Potter, P. (2003). About The Cover. University, 9(6), 760-761.

Sayers, J. (2007). Picasso cure: Personality, psychoanalysis, les demoiselles d'avignon centenary.  International Journal of Art Therapy, 12(1), 39. doi:10.1080/17454830701264744

Steefel, L. D. (1992). The neglected fruit cluster in picasso's "les demoiselles d'avignon". Artibus  Et Historiae, 13(26), 115-120.    a

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