MoMA
Pablo Picasso. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Paris, June-July 1907
Pablo Picasso

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Paris, June-July 1907
On view
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
8' x 7' 8" (243.9 x 233.7 cm)
Credit
Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest
Object number
333.1939
Copyright
© 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

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. These strategies would be significant in Picasso’s subsequent development of Cubism, charted in this gallery with a selection of the increasingly fragmented compositions he created in this period.

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.

Gallery label from 2013
Additional text

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon is one of the most important works in the genesis of modern art. The painting depicts five naked prostitutes in a brothel; two of them push aside curtains around the space where the other women strike seductive and erotic poses—but their figures are composed of flat, splintered planes rather than rounded volumes, their eyes are lopsided or staring or asymmetrical, and the two women at the right have threatening masks for heads. The space, too, which should recede, comes forward in jagged shards, like broken glass. In the still life at the bottom, a piece of melon slices the air like a scythe.

The faces of the figures at the right are influenced by African masks, which Picasso assumed had functioned as magical protectors against dangerous spirits: this work, he said later, was his "first exorcism painting." A specific danger he had in mind was life-threatening sexual disease, a source of considerable anxiety in Paris at the time; earlier sketches for the painting more clearly link sexual pleasure to mortality. In its brutal treatment of the body and its clashes of color and style (other sources for this work include ancient Iberian statuary and the work of Paul Cézanne), Les Demoiselles d'Avignon marks a radical break from traditional composition and perspective.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 64
Provenance information
The artist, Paris. 1907 - 1924
Jacques Doucet (1853-1929), Neuilly (Paris). Purchased from Picasso in February 1924 - 1929
Madame Jacques Doucet (Jeanne Roger), Neuilly. 1929 - September 1937
Jacques Seligmann & Co., New York. Purchased from Madame Doucet in September 1937
The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchased from Seligmann, through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest, in 1937. Transaction completed in 1939

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Image permissions

In order to effectively service requests for images, The Museum of Modern Art entrusts the licensing of images of works of art in its collections to the agencies Scala Archives and Art Resource. As MoMA’s representatives, these agencies supply high-resolution digital image files provided to them directly by the Museum's imaging studios.

All requests to reproduce works of art from MoMA's collection within North America (Canada, U.S., Mexico) should be addressed directly to Art Resource at 536 Broadway, New York, New York 10012. Telephone (212) 505-8700; fax (212) 505-2053; requests@artres.com; artres.com. Requests from all other geographical locations should be addressed directly to Scala Group S.p.A., 62, via Chiantigiana, 50012 Bagno a Ripoli/Firenze, Italy. Telephone 39 055 6233 200; fax 39 055 641124; firenze@scalarchives.com; scalarchives.com.

Requests for permission to reprint text from MoMA publications should be addressed to text_permissions@moma.org.

Related links:
Outside North America: Scala Archives
North America: Art Resource