Les Demoiselles: Conserving a Modern Masterpiece MoMA.org: The Museum of Modern Art Les Demoiselles: Conserving a Modern Masterpiece
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History of the Painting
Working Process

Picasso worked on the painting in at least two stages starting in the winter of 1906–07, completing it sometime in the summer of 1907. In an effort to explain the astonishing painting, some contemporary critics—notably the artist's dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler—maintained that the work remained unfinished. Art historians now argue otherwise. As Robert Rosenblum writes, "Its very inconsistency is an integral part of Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. The irrepressible energy behind its creation demanded a vocabulary of change and impulse rather than of measured statement in a style already articulated. The breathless tempo of this pregnant historical movement virtually obligated its first masterpiece to carry within itself the very process of artistic evolution." (Rosenblum, Cubism and Twentieth Century Art, p. 16).

Of all the paintings in Picasso's oeuvre, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon presents a singular challenge for interpreting its physical composition as well as its psychological content due to its scale, composition, and change in pictorial style. A close examination of this transitional painting and a comparison with some closely related works allows us to better understand how the painting was conceived and executed.

Copyright 2003 The Museum of Modern Art