Narrator 1: 5–6. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Painted in 1907 by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, 1881–1973. Oil on canvas, eight feet high by seven feet eight inches wide. 244 x 234 cm.
Narrator 2: This painting shows a group of five naked women, painted in pinkish–peach flesh tones, against a backdrop of brown, white and blue curtains. The figures are very flat – and there’s little illusion that these are real bodies.
Looking at the five figures from left to right. The woman to the far left of the group is standing, in profile, facing right. With her left hand she reaches up behind her head to hold an orangey–brown curtain back. She has long straight black hair falling down her back. Her head, from the neck up, appears to be in shadow, or suntanned – it’s a darker brown than the pinkish flesh of her body. She stares straight ahead, expressionless. Her right eye, seen as if from the front, is large, simplified, and outlined in black – with a black pupil, surrounded by brown. Her near arm hangs stiffly by her side. Her breast juts forward in a rough square shape.
Beside this figure, in the center of the painting, are two women looking directly forward, straight out of the canvas. Their black eyes are wide and uneven. Their left eyebrows extend as sweeping lines to form simplified profile noses. Their mouths are straight lines. The one on the left raises her bent right elbow and places her hand behind her hand, as if posing provocatively. Her black hair is pulled back and falls behind her left shoulder. Her breasts are suggested with half circles. None of the women’s breasts have nipples. The woman on the right raises both arms, and puts both hands behind her head—her dark brown hair is pulled into a small high tight bun.
The last two figures on the right are the most unexpected. One stands in back, her raised arms parting the blue curtains from which she emerges – her black hair hangs down her back. One eye is socket black and empty. Her nose, like her face, is large and elongated, striped diagonally in green across her cheek, suggesting less the face of a human than the forms of an African mask. In front of her, another woman sits or squats, elbow on one raised knee, which juts toward the center of the painting. She raises her arm to her face, and beneath her chin is a large ambiguous form recalling a boomerang—it might be her hand, or a piece of melon she is eating. Though her dark tan face is turned towards us, her body is flat, with a pale line down the center that may indicate a spine, implying that she is sitting with her back is to us. If so, her head is swiveled impossibly around. Her nose is also striped, her face impassive and mask–like, with one uneven eye completely white, the other completely blue.
The five women are painted in simplified lines, their bodies made up of straight–edged planes of varying flesh tones. Similarly, the drapery behind them doesn’t hang in soft folds: it’s made up of flat, splintered planes of color, like shards of glass.
In the center foreground, near the bottom of the painting, is an arrangement of fruit on a crumpled white cloth: grapes, a pear, an apple and a slice of melon. The apple and pear are streaked with red, and the melon’s reddish too; but the grapes are a grayish white. The slice of melon is as sharp as the curved blade of a scythe or crescent moon.
To hear the Collection Tour audio on this work, press 5–0–2.