Pablo Picasso. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. The Ladies of Avignon Paris, June-July 1907
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon marks a radical break from traditional composition and perspective in painting. It depicts five naked women with figures composed of flat, splintered planes and faces inspired by Iberian sculpture and African masks. The compressed space the figures inhabit appears to project forward in jagged shards; a fiercely pointed slice of melon in the still life of fruit at the bottom of the composition teeters on an impossibly upturned tabletop. Picasso unveiled the monumental painting in his Paris studio after months of revision. The Avignon of the work’s title is a reference to a street in Barcelona famed for its brothel. In Picasso’s preparatory studies for the work, the figure at the left was a man, but the artist eliminated this anecdotal detail in the final painting.
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. 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.
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