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Pablo Picasso. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. 1907.

X-rays of Heads

Details of the heads of the five figures, paired with their corresponding X-ray details, are described from left to right (above) starting with the curtain-pulling figure (Fig. 1) and ending with the crouching figure (Fig. 5). The right figures (Fig. 4 and Fig. 5) also have tracings that indicate earlier compositional features.

Pictured above:
Pablo Picasso. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. 1907. Oil on canvas, 8' x 7' 8" (243.9 x 233.7 cm). Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest. © 2003 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Fig.1-Curtain-Pulling Figure (far left) X-ray  
Fig. 1-Curtain-Pulling Figure (far left) detail

Fig. 1-Curtain-Pulling Figure
(far left of painting)

The heavier paint application is evident here in the outline of the jaw and shoulder, where Picasso delineated forms using thicker paint with some lead white mixed in. Darkly pigmented areas such as the hair and background are composed mainly of earth pigments, which are transparent to the X-rays and appear as dark passages on the X-ray film. With close examination, the weave of the original canvas can be discerned in these thinly painted areas. No major changes to the composition of this figure are evident in the X-ray.

Fig. 2-Iberian Figure (center left) x-ray  
Fig. 2-Iberian Figure (center left) detail

Fig. 2-Iberian Figure
(center left of painting)

This central figure also represents the initial overall composition of the heads influenced by Iberian sculpture. Most notable in this figure are the prominent ears and wide, staring eyes. The right eye is particularly densely painted due to the lead white impasto. This X-ray was taken after the stretcher was replaced in 1963. This is evident in the lighter borders caused by the wooden stretcher bars on the left and lower edges. The white circular areas correspond to screws reinforcing the stretcher bars.

Fig. 2-Iberian Figure (center left) x-ray  
Fig. 2-Iberian Figure (center left) detail

Fig. 3-Iberian Figure
(center right of painting)

The X-ray image of the right central figure is similar to Fig. 2, suggesting that this central pair were painted with very little alteration, in contrast to the two figures on the right. Note the slightly thicker application here.
Fig. 4-Figure Derived from African Mask (top right) X-ray  
Fig. 4-Figure Derived from African Mask (top right) Detail

Fig. 4-Figure Derived from African Mask
(top right of painting)

Picasso's reworking of this head is especially evident in the large ear that appears in the X-ray, but is painted over in the final version. This ear, no longer visible, is painted in similar fashion to the ears of the Iberian heads discussed in Fig. 2 and Fig. 3. Picasso also transformed the formerly petite nose into a massive wedge shape and repositioned the mouth into a long chin and jaw outlined in black. At an earlier stage the right eye contained a staring pupil that is now painted black.

Evidence of all these changes—nose, eyes, and chin—are emphasized in a tracing of the underlying composition that bears a close resemblance to the heads of the central figures. Picasso's slashing brushwork of parallel red and green paint is also visible in the X-ray. This is the same type of paint application he used in the heads of the central pair, made much more bold here by his choice of complementary colors.

Fig.5-Crouching Figure (bottom right) X-ray  
Fig.5-Crouching Figure (bottom right) Detail

Fig. 5-Crouching Figure
(bottom right of painting)

The cubist head of the crouching figure underwent at least two revisions, with an intermediate stage having a bright yellow complexion. The first composition, close in appearance to the central Iberian heads, can be seen where an eye stares out from beneath the bridge of the nose. A tracing over the X-ray indicates this third eye and some other contours. The next campaign on this figure included the extensive layer of cadmium yellow seen in visible light through cracks in the final paint layer. The cadmium yellow layer adds another level of density, resulting in the most opaque X-ray image of any of the figures.

Copyright 2003 The Museum of Modern Art