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

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

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 503 The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries

This work is as uncomfortable to look at as it is impossible to look away from. No other painting in the history of Western art so boldly, and baldly, confronts the viewer. Three of the five naked protagonists stare outward, trapping us with their gazes, just as the picture’s complicated space, populated by bodies that simultaneously press against and recede from its surface, draws us in. Pictorial conventions are banished and idealized notions of beauty jettisoned. The two rightmost figures’ masklike features are often connected to Picasso’s visit, midway through his work on the painting, to the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris—the city’s first anthropological museum. There he had an epiphanic encounter with African and Oceanic art, which influenced the work’s ferocious antinaturalism—the degree to which the depicted figures resist mimetic norms.

Picasso produced an unprecedented quantity of preparatory drawings and paintings for Demoiselles. They speak to his struggle to reinvent Western painting in his own stylistically disjunctive, spatially contradictory, aggressively confrontational terms. The title Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The women of Avignon) was given to the work around the time of its first public exhibition. It alludes to the prostitutes of Barcelona’s red-light district and foregrounds the psychosexual dimension and erotic content that conjoin with Demoiselles’s explosive form and fuel its continued ability to shock.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)

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. 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.
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
8' x 7' 8" (243.9 x 233.7 cm)
Credit
Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest (by exchange)
Object number
333.1939
Copyright
© 2019 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Department
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

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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

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