Free Essay Sample: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

Picasso began working on Les demoiselles d’Avignon at the beginning of 1907. The painting became very significant for this century. The image is an oil painting in canvas. The original painting had male figures that were eventually left out in his final painting. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), which means the young women of Avignon, is a painting with five nude female figures. Avignon refers to a famous red-light town in Barcelona. The two figures on the right symbolize primitive art, while the three on the left are classical figures that are angular in shape and have been distorted by the painter. The female figure on the far left draws back the curtain, apparently to reveal other women in the painting. It can be argued that his paintings portray revolution in modern art history, where pictures are used as a mirror through which the society sees itself.

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The artist disposes off the three-dimensional view that was largely used in paintings, and uses distortion. The figures are inconsistent in style and are dislocated. The human body in the painting looks like broken glass that had been put together piece by piece. Picasso does not show continuity of the human body. The figure of the woman in the middle of the painting is disproportionate just like the other four (Museum of Modern Art, 2005). Her torso is short and out of perspective from the rest of the body. Unlike other paintings where female figures were portrayed to be beautiful with fair skin, the painter makes the skin of women look rough, which leaves the viewer thinking that he fears women. The limbs and bodies of these women are portrayed to be strong, which gives an impression of empowering these women to have masculine features. Venturi (1973) observes: “The nude women with the aggressive looks plastered on their faces symbolize sexual freedom.” To the viewer the women in the painting are not afraid to bring out their sexuality when they are at the brothel (Venturi, 1973). The rough figures inferred that the artist is struggling to bring out a certain idea to his viewer. The use of two-dimensional and harsh color tones emphasize that the painter is not afraid to bring out his feelings and emotions. and let the viewer know how he feels while painting. The angular figures are almost abstract, especially the ones on the right side of the canvas (BBC Worldwide Ltd, 2006).

The masks worn by the two nude figures on the right side of the painting express how the painter was influenced by primitive art. When Picasso was painting this piece, he had been collecting masks brought from Africa and sold in France. The two women presented in the painting in an aggressive manner, which represents the artist’s attitude towards Africans, who seemed to him as aggressive aliens. The squatting woman with the mask on the right portrays hard line pornography, which breaks away from the tradition of the female figure being portrayed as sensual and attractive in many paintings (Venturi, 1973). The mask makes the female figure to appear as bold and fearless expressing comfort and ease of her actions.

The position of the large and angular heads in central figures of the painting depict to the viewer that the painter was influenced by ancient sculptures from Iberian. The figures of five nude women standing around a still life, represented by the fruits at the table symbolize traditional gatherings. The shape of the ears, eyes and eyebrows of the two women on the right give the viewer a mask-like look on the faces of these women. The masks can also be related to the painter’s belief in superstition (BBC Worldwide Ltd, 2006). Painting the faces of the female figure like the Iberian sculptures suggests that the painter was against traditional way of painting.

The colors used in this painting are very strong and harsh. It represents a complete contrast to other paintings that were produced during that century. Instead of using fresh colors with soft tones to bring out the different dimensions of the figures, Picasso uses bold colors like cinnamon on the background, and a bright tone of blue, instead of the usual sky blue. The shading is done in a way that the three-dimensional concept is brought out as opposed to being used directly in the painting. There is no clear distinction between light and darkness, hence giving the viewer a feeling of disorientation in space (Museum of Modern Art, 2005). The colors that the painter uses for the planes, the female figures and the background of the painting cannot be differentiated due to the relation between organic and inorganic. It is only the color tone that enables the viewer to the difference between these objects. According to Museum of Modern Art “The lines and texture used by Picasso in this painting makes this painting to stand out from other painting that were produced during that particular century. (2005)” The artist explores lines in a more radical way instead of using simplified lines like the rest of the painters (Venturi, 1973). The blue color contrasts with the brown color used in the background of the painting, which gives the viewer an impression of uneasiness.

In conclusion, Picasso breaks away from the traditional way of painting. It is characterized by the brush strokes, which are done in a rough manner, and the tone used in the painting. This painting portrays his feelings towards women, the rough appearance of the figures shows that he fears them. Distorted female figures in the art piece bring out the power of the painter over women, at the same time,aggression in their faces expresses his fear of women. The use of masks and use of the art used in Iberian ancient sculptures bring out the primitive art that fascinates the artist.


BBC Worldwide Ltd, Films for the Humanities & Sciences (Firm), and Films Media Group. 2006. Les Demoiselles d’avignon. New York, N.Y.: Films Media Group.

Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y.). 2005. Les demoiselles d’Avignon conserving a modern masterpiece. New York: Museum of Modern Art.

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