Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – Pablo Picasso
The following essay will be written about the modernist painting; ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, created by the Spanish expatriate artist Pablo Ruiz Picasso in 1907. Firstly, I will describe the work as I saw it in the MOMA in New York in 2010 and I will also describe my initial reaction to seeing it. Secondly, I will write what I have found out about this piece after conducting research in the college library and on the internet, discussing its style and the period which it was made in. This will be done in order to place the work in context with other work and events in that era. Thirdly, I will briefly discuss the nature and availability of my sources, exploring any contradictory statements in certain sources and examining their differences in opinions. Finally, following my thorough research on this painting, I will give my reaction now after having done the research and I will conclude upon any differences in opinions or reactions I have now compared to before my research.
‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ depicts five pink women that are entangled in silver and blue garments. Two of these women stand with arms raised to display their breasts, staring at you out of enormous black eyes. The other three are masked: the two at the right are wearing African masks; one of them is emerging from behind the jagged cloth while the other squats low in the fabric. Picasso assumed that these had functioned as magical protectors against dangerous spirits: this work, he said later, was his "first exorcism painting." The other masked woman wears a fleshy brown wooden contortion of a face as she stands in profile at the left of the picture. On a plate, there is a collection of beautiful symbolic fruit: a razor blade of melon with testicular grapes, an apple and a pear. Upon examination it is quite clear that this is a painting of nudes in which there is scarcely a curve to be seen — ‘’elbows sharp as knives, hips and waists geometrical silhouettes, triangle breasts’’. Their figures are composed of flat, splintered planes instead of rounded volumes and their eyes are lopsided and asymmetrical. The Demoiselles d'Avignon are actually five prostitutes, and these are five women—obviously naked—and they're looking at the viewer as much as the viewer is looking at them. The very early studies in Picasso’s sketchbooks relating to this piece show a medical student walking into this curtained room where the ladies stand. The woman on the far left now bears the traces of having being that man entering the room. Picasso, wanting absolutely no anecdotal details to interfere with the sheer impact of the work, decided to eliminate the medical student in the final painting. Therefore one can even feel a certain sense of masculinity in the sort of sculptural carving of her body and the way that very large foot is stepping toward the other women. The only remaining allusion to the brothel lies in the title: Avignon was a street in Barcelona famed for its brothel. Upon looking at this piece in MOMA New York, I was struck by one thing in particular: the fact that the African masks in the painting disguise you as something completely different — a monster, an animal, a god. Modernism is an art that wears a mask. It does not say what it means; it is not a window but a wall. Picasso picked his subject matter precisely because it was a cliché; he wanted to show that originality in art does not lie in narrative, or morality but in formal invention. This is why it’s misguided to see ‘Demoiselles’ as a painting ‘’about’’ brothels or prostitutes. Normal tendencies had been to lose sight of the act of creation. That’s what Picasso blasts away. Modernism in the arts meant exactly this victory of form over content. Something else that I noticed about this piece was its similarity to other historical sources. One of several historical sources that Picasso pillaged is archaic art, demonstrated clearly by figure at the left of...
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