NYC - MoMA: Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, Paris, June-July 1907
Oil on canvas, 8' x 7' 8"
Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, one of Pablo Picasso's most famous works, was painted in France and completed in the summer of 1907. A seminal work in the development of Cubism, Picasso's eye-catching depiction of five prostitutes in a brothel revolutionized the art world. Picasso created over one hundred sketches and studies in preparation for this work, drawing on sources as diverse as Iberian sculpture, African tribal masks, and El Greco Opening of the Fifth Seal and Cezanne's Les Grandes Baigneuses to make this startling composition. Its monumental size underscored the shocking incoherence resulting from the outright sabotage of conventional representation.
Picasso drew each of the figures differently. The woman pulling the curtain on the far right has heavy paint application throughout. Her head is the most cubist of all five, featuring sharp geometric shapes. The cubist head of the crouching figure underwent at least two revisions from an Iberian figure to its current state.
Much of the critical debate over Les Demoiselles attempts to account for the multiplicity of styles. Alfred Barr, the first director of MoMA, interpreted it as evidence of an artist in transition--an effort to connect his earlier work to his new Cubist style. In 1974, however, critic Leo Steinberg claimed in was a deliberate attempt to capture the attention of the viewer. He notes that the five women all seem eerily disconnected, wholly unaware of each other and instead focusing their intense gaze on the viewer. In 1994, William Rubin suggests that some of the figure's faces symbolize the disfigurements of syphilis, and that the painting was created following a series of brothel visits by Picasso, who was then temporarily separated from his mistress Fernande Olivier.
Preparatory studies featured two men inside the brothel--one a sailor and the other a medical student. Picasso, wanting no anecdotal detail to interfere with the sheer impact of the work, decided to eliminate it in the final painting. The only remaining allusion to the brothel lies in the title: Avignon was a street in Barcelona famed for its brothel. A trace of the male presence remains--the jutting edge of a table near the bottom of the canvas. Steinberg argues that the viewer has ocme to replace the men.
In July 2007, Newsweek published a two-page, four-column article about Les Demoiselles d'Avignon describing it as the "most influential work of art of the last 100 years".
Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequestt
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was founded in 1929 and is often recognized as the most influential museum of modern art in the world. Over the course of the next ten years, the Museum moved three times into progressively larger temporary quarters, and in 1939 finally opened the doors of its midtown home, located on 53rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in midtown.
MoMA's holdings include more than 150,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, architectural models and drawings, and design objects. Highlights of the collection inlcude Vincent Van Gogh's The Starry Night, Salvador Dali's The Persisence of Memory, Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiseels d'Avignon and Three Musicians, Claude Monet's Water Lilies, Piet Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie, Paul Gauguin's The Seed of the Areoi, Henri Matisse's Dance, Marc Chagall's I and the Village, Paul Cezanne's The Bather, Jackson Pollack's Number 31, 1950, and Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans. MoMA also owns approximately 22,000 films and four million film stills, and MoMA's Library and Archives, the premier research facilities of their kind in the world, hold over 300,000 books, artist books, and periodicals, and extensive individual files on more than 70,000 artists.