As this to me and the others
As strolled through New York City?s Museum of Modern Art , one particular painting grabbed me , shook me , then through me to the ground to contemplate its awesome power. Like a whirlwind of art , Les Demoiselles d?Avignon , by Pablo Picasso , sent my emotions spinning.
I felt extremely uncomfortable glancing at it , let alone staring at it closely for twenty minutes. The raw sexuality and tension that Les Demoiselles d?Avignon radiated was absolutely overwhelming yet very confusing. Other art lovers in the room also expressed discomfort as they glanced at the enormous 96×92 inch painting. Most people would only allow quick glances in between long stares at the more typical paintings on the other walls. I even heard one girl remark ?it?s so gross!!? in a nervous and uncertain voice.
I had to know why Les Demoiselles d?Avignon was doing this to me and the others in the room. Les Demoiselles d?Avignon was the product of an irritated and restless Pablo Picasso. In 1906 , Picasso began to tire of painting in the fairly traditional manner that governed his paintings up to Les Demoiselles d?Avignon. His solution was to revolutionize painting.1Why was Picasso unsatisfied with traditional painting? Essentially Picasso?s overall dissatisfaction for sticking with anything for a long period caused him to take up the difficult quest of revolutionizing painting. He was known to constantly change the styles and mediums through which he created his art. Andre Salmon, a poet and friend Picasso, was once quoted as accusing Picasso of ?trying to force his friends to speculate on the whole problem of art every time they took a brush in their hands.
? 2 This quote is very telling of Picasso?s need to change and solve artistic problems.In 1906 he abandoned the painting traditions that stretched all the way back to the Renaissance , and began Les Demoiselles d?Avignon.Les Demoiselles d?Avignon was the product of intense study.
The comments of Salmon , shed light on the intensity of the project; ?….
He became uneasy , He turned his canvases to the wall and threw down his paintbrushes. For many long days and nights , he drew….
Never was labor less rewarded with joy , and without his former youthful enthusiasm Picasso undertook a large canvas that was intended to be the fruit of his experiments.? 3Every aspect of the painting was carefully planned and executed. One might compare his trial and error method to that of a scientific experiment. His study began in late 1906.
Over the next year Les Demoiselles d?Avignon?s details went through many changes and modifications. In Picasso?s own words; “According to my first idea, there were also going to be men in the painting. There was a student holding a skull, and a sailor. The women were eating–that explains the basket of fruit that is still in the painting. Then it changed and became what it is now.
“Picasso eventually decided to exclude the two male figures , as he felt they were trying to present some kind of moral to the painting.4Instead he focused on the five nude female figures that we see today. It is important to note that Picasso hated the title Les Demoiselles d?Avignon. Originally he did not have a title in mind for the painting. The name was created by his friend Andre Salmon He felt that Les Demoiselles d?Avignon was much to gentle. It detracted from the harsh and ugly reality that the painting represented.5Eventually he accepted the name due to his friends constant use of it.
Picasso finally finished the work in July of 1907. He of course invited all his closest friends to take a look at his revolutionary painting. His friends , whom were considered contemporary avante-garde painters and connoisseurs , were shocked. Gertrude Stein was speechless. Shchukin ,the Russian art collector cried ,”What a loss for French art!”.
His future partner in cubism commented that painting in such a way was as bad as drinking petrol in the hope of spitting fire. Matisse had the most violent reaction. He swore revenge on what he called a barbaric mockery of modern painting.
The only person who saw the immediate potential of the painting was Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler , an art dealer and friend of Picasso.6Although he was heavily criticized , he was not affected by any of it. The almost unanimous negative reaction of his close friends occurred because Picasso had violated traditions that were held sacred to all of them. Although Les Demoiselles d?Avignon retains qualities that are bizarre and unorthodox , it still has some average technical qualities that are necessary to all paintings.Les Demoiselles d?Avignon is a whopping 8 ft x 7.
8 ft ft of oil on canvas. It was acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest and currently hangs on its very own wall in the Museum of Modern Art , in New York City.
The colors are overall not very striking. Shades of pink and blue dominate the painting while touches of green and brown appear on the faces. Picasso?s brush strokes are very smooth , but erratic. The two women in the middle of the painting received the most uniform color and smooth brush strokes.
The other figures however , have different colored sections on their bodies. The figure in the upper right for example has brown sections on her breasts , both in different shades. Her arms are also a darker shade of pink then the lower part of her body which is a lighter shade. This figure also has several rough brush strokes on her breasts , while also having very smooth brush strokes on her stomach and leg area. A source of light is almost completely absent. The only place that a light source is hinted at is with the women opening the curtain. It appears that her head is in some sort of shadow.
Overall a source of light is unimportant. This will become important later in the paper. The above details are simple and unimportant aspects of the painting.
One important aspect of Les Demoiselles d?Avignon is its solid composition. Picasso was known to be very interested in the perfection of form and composition. He gained lots of knowledge from the paintings of Cezanne. Cezanne?s painting were highly structured , and stable as he could paint them. In particular Picasso borrowed heavily from Cezanne?s Bathers. One aspect that Picasso incorporated into Les Demoiselles d?Avignon , was the lack of depth. In the Bathers , the figures are packed close to the front of the painting.
Even though there is a smaller figure in the back of the painting , it still seems like is close up to front of the painting.7Cezanne is not the only painter that influenced the composition of Les Demoiselles d?Avignon. El Greco?s The Fifth Seal heavily influenced Les Demoiselles d?Avignon.
Picasso often visited the painting at a nearby friends house. The Fifth Seal was a very large and imposing painting. Due to damage it had been cut down into its current strange dimensions. Picasso liked the effect that it produced and used very similar dimensions in Les Demoiselles d?Avignon. The dimensions of The Fifth Seal helped Picasso solve some problems he was having with Les Demoiselles d?Avignon. There is evidence in his sketches that Picasso was having difficulties with the composition.
After viewing The Fifth Seal he was able to solve that balance issues that he was having. When Les Demoiselles d?Avignon is viewed , the similarities between the odd squarish rectangle shape and tightly packed figures is very obvious. 8The above details do not represent the breaking of artistic traditions. They are simple details of the painting and its process. There are many other important aspects that made the painting offensive to his closest friends.
One of the most obvious violations of tradition and logic was Picasso?s radical treatment of perspective. Leo Stein , the brother of Gertrude Stein , commented at the first viewing of Les Demoiselles d?Avignon , “You’ve been trying to paint the fourth dimension. How amusing!”9His comment was actually quite astute. Leo Stein noticed that Picasso had completely abandoned the system of linear perspective created by Brunelleschi in the early 1400?s.
Picasso wanted to go beyond the physical limitations of linear perspective. Linear perspective restrained Picasso from painting beyond what the eye could see. He wanted to paint what the mind could see. He was very aware that people look at objects and capture the image in their minds from many different perspectives. The object?s important qualities then melt together in a single memory. Many visual perspectives become one perspective of the mind.
Cezanne influenced Picasso heavily in this sort of thought. Cezanne once said ?I think of art as personal apperception. I place this perception in sensation , and I require that the intelligence organize it into a work or art.?10Cezanne is speaking of perceiving an object or scene in ones mind , then using your memories and logic to paint what you saw. Unfortunately Cezanne knew that he had not achieved what he preached , although he did recognize that he was onto some new kind of art. Picasso manifested Cezanne?s theories in Les Demoiselles d?Avignon.
He did it by skipping the whole painting with logic. Tradition lies within logic. Picasso defied logic in many instances in Les Demoiselles d?Avignon.
An example of this occurs in the bottom right hand corner of the painting.Picasso defies logic and gives us a full frontal view of the figures face with a full view of the her back. This is obviously a perspective that the human eye cannot see. If we are staring at someone’s back , then their entire face cannot be viewed as it is in Les Demoiselles d?Avignon. Another distortion occurs in the painting of the women on the far right. She is painted as if viewed from a side profile , yet we can see her entire eye. This Egyptian like side profile with a full view of the eye is also a physical impossibility.
The unnatural appearance of the women is not the only way in which Picasso twists perspective. Picasso used unrelated shapes to create multiple planes throughout the painting. The shapes fill up empty space in the background and confuses our sense of depth. All elements in the painting seem to be forced together.One cannot perceive how far away the blue curtain is from the two women in the middle. This aspect enhances the confrontational nature of the painting. The lack of depth seems to push horrible women right towards you.
He also creates uncertainty of the visual senses. When uncertainty occurs in any of our senses, a sort of panic sets in. Picasso creates panic. The viewer cannot tell if the terrible women are very close or very far. It almost looks as if the figures are close enough to reach out and grab someone , yet Picasso does not allow us to visually check this. The uncertainty of space was a totally new feeling for paintings.
In older paintings, even the most horrible subjects seemed to be at least stuck within the painting. For example , James Ensor?s Intrigue , is much more menacing then Les Demoiselles d?Avignon , yet the viewer can at least come to grips with the closeness of the masked faces. Ensor confirms that we must deal with these people through the use of Linear perspective.11Les Demoiselles d?Avignon provides the viewer with no idea of how to orient him or herself. This new arrangement of space in Les Demoiselles d?Avignon would eventually be thought of as the beginnings of cubism.
Although the heavy distortion in perception is unnerving, the distortion of the female nude violated a much more sacred aspect of painting. Picasso restructured the female nude into harsh angular planes with strange faces. Gone were the typical curvy lines and soft features of the female body. Picasso painted three different kinds of women , which he then grouped by similar faces. The faces are very violent and disturbing. Essentially the faces are like masks from two different cultures. The two women in the middle received much influence from Iberian sculpture.
Theyboth have bulging oval eyes , strong eyebrows , large ears , and very heavy jaws. These features were essential characteristics of Iberian sculpture. Picasso received Iberian influence from two Iberian limestone heads that he bought in March of 1907. He acquired the heads from a thief that his friend Appolinaire knew. Previous to Picasso , the heads belonged to the Louvre. Picasso never returned the sculptures on the grounds that the Louvre had stolen them from the Spanish people.12 The women on the far left resembles an Egyptian style of painting.
The body is seen from the side profile , but the eye is depicted on the side of the head just as the Egyptians did. There is also a slight African mask reference in the shape of the nose. It is very wedge like and angular , just like the masks of the women on the far right.The body however , does not represent the Egyptian style.
It is much to chunky and distorted.African is much more heavy in the masks of the women on the right side of the painting. There is very much debate on when Picasso first came in contact with African art.
Picasso himself claims that he knew nothing of African art while painting Les Demoiselles d?Avignon. His friends say other wise. Most of his friends believe he first came in contact with African art when he met Matisse in 1906. Matisse was known to have a collection of African art in his studio.13Picasso?s claim that he never saw any of the collection seems a bit far fetched. There is also another account of Picasso?s first visit to the Ethnographical Museum at the Trocadaro. He was extremely influenced and completely captivated by the African masks and the power that they had.
14The influence of the masks on the two women on the right is very obviously from this experience. Both masks share the same African facial features. They both have long wedge noses and small rounded mouths.
The upper mask is also missing ears , which was typical of African masks.Overall the masks do not represent anything in particular. Their ethnic qualities just happened to be of interest to Picasso at the time of Les Demoiselles d?Avignon. He was simply experimenting with different techniques.This does not mean that they are not important to the painting. They are the final touch on the horrible distortions of Les Demoiselles d?AvignonAll of the aspects above created the most radical rethinking of painting since linear perspective was invented.
Les Demoiselles d?Avignon shows us more then we can see. The viewer is frozen in the shapes and lines that normally would give him or her some breathing room. Picasso eliminated the thought process that older paintings forced the viewer to go through.
Our thoughts are already on the canvas. Picasso tapped into our memories and presented them before we can think of them. He think distorts them heavily.
This is why the painting is so moving. He takes our thoughts and everything that is natural and normal and imposes his twisted view on them.Our ever familiar visual perspective that governs our sight is dismantled leaving us unable to find our way out of the painting.
The familiar figure of our bodies is mangled and unfamiliar. I consider this painting to be an assault. He assaults our confidence in what we think we know.
After viewing the African masks in the Trocadero, Picasso is quoted as saying ?They were against everything-against unknown , threatening spirits….I understood ; I to am against everything. I to believe that everything is unknown , that everything is an enemy!.
….the fetishes were weapons. To help people avoid coming under the influence of spirits again , to help them become independent..
..I understood why I was a painter..
..Les Demoiselles d?Avignon must have come to me that very day , but not at all because of the forms ; because it was my first exorcism painting-yes absolutely!? 15 Picasso used Les Demoiselles d?Avignon to free himself from what the world had told him was absolute. Les Demoiselles d?Avignon mocks and teases the faith that people put into their ignorance of the unknown. Picasso?s Les Demoiselles d?Avignon continues to challenge a shake people to this day.Bibliography:John Richardson , A Life of Picasso volume 2 1907-1917 (New York : Random House Press 1996) 15.
Arriana S. Huffington , Picasso:Creator and Destroyer . (New York : Simon and Schulster , 1988) 89.Marie-Laurie Berndac and Bouchet , Picasso: Master of the New Idea . (New York , Abrams , 19Kirk Varnedoe , Response to Les Demoiselles d?Avignon. (http://www.moma.org/docs/collection/paintsculpt/c40.htm , 1997)George H. Hamilton , Painting and Sculpture in Europe 1800-1940 . (New Haven : Yale U. Press 1993) 46-47