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

Pablo Picasso

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Paris, June-July 1907

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
© 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Department
Painting and Sculpture
This work is on view on Floor 5, in a Collection Gallery, with 14 other works online.
Pablo Picasso has 1,242 works online.
There are 2,326 paintings online.

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

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

This work is included in the Provenance Research Project, which investigates the ownership history of works in MoMA's collection.
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

If you have any questions or information to provide about the listed works, please email provenance@moma.org or write to:

Provenance Research Project
The Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA's collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

If you would like to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA, please contact Scala Archives (all geographic locations) at firenze@scalarchives.com.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA's archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.