Whaddaya lookin’ at? Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon!

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Les Demoiselles d’Aivgnon (1907), Picasso

It is said that Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is the first real Cubist painting. Created from a number of influences, the image depicts five whores who are believed to be from the brothel on carrer d’Avinyo (Avignon Street) in Barcelona. Primarily, it was Cezanne’s work, ‘The Great Bathers’ (exhibited in 1907) that motivated Picasso to take on the motif of a group of female nudes.

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The Great Bathers (1898-1905), Cezanne

The two figures at right and one at left are painted under the influence of Primitive African sculpture and Iberian art. This is significant as they not only allow for Picasso to paint in a stylised way (simplifying elements to symbolise form), but also, in their simplicity, they portray a profound sense of savagery. The figure in the middle is based on a Classical statue- that of the Dying Slave, and her big dark eyes convey a feeling of threat and sexual control, unsettling the spectator with their powerful directness.

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Dying Slave (1513-1516), Michelangelo

There is little spatial depth in this painting, and it seems as though the figures are nearly merging with their background. It is this concept of merging which distorts the clarity of figures that will go on to influence all Cubist and Abstract art.

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