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Explore how Cubist artists shattered conventions of representation and perspective.

Modern Portraits

Explore how early modern painters pushed the boundaries of traditional portraiture.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Pablo Picasso
(Spanish, 1881–1973)

1907. Oil on canvas, 8' x 7' 8" (243.9 x 233.7 cm)

Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon after encountering African masks and Iberian sculpture at the Palais du Trocadéro, a Paris museum. The women 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 bear masklike features. The space, too, which should recede, comes forward in jagged shards, like broken glass. Picasso, like many of his contemporaries, drew inspiration from non-European art. African masks, with their radical simplification and stylization of human features, suggested an alternative to conventions of Western painting and representation, and challenged artists like Picasso to develop new forms of representation.

Many people were outraged when this painting was first shown to the public, and the controversy sparked a number of rivalries between Picasso and his contemporaries. The artist Henri Matisse was described as “angry” about this work and others. “His immediate reaction was that the picture was an outrage, an attempt to ridicule the modern movement. He vowed he would find some means to ‘sink’ Picasso and make him sorry for his audacious hoax.”1

William Rubin, Hélène Seckel, and Judith Cousins, Studies in Modern Art 3: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994), 244

The visual portrayal of someone or something.

Modern can mean related to current times, but it can also indicate a relationship to a particular set of ideas that, at the time of their development, were new or even experimental.

Did You Know?
Picasso unveiled the monumentally scaled painting in his studio after months of preparation and revision. In his preparatory studies, the figure at left was a medical student entering a brothel. Picasso, wanting no anecdotal detail to interfere with the sheer impact of the work, decided to eliminate it in the final painting. The only remaining allusion to the brothel lies in the title: Avignon was a street in Barcelona famed for its brothel.


AUDIO: Curator Ann Temkin on the how this painting’s subject matter was as shocking as its composition and style

SLIDESHOW: See photos of Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, taken by MoMA visitors. To add your shots, upload them to Flickr with tag “MoMA Picasso Demoiselles”.