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20th Century Art – Pablo Picasso Essay


Pablo Ruiz Picasso was born on October 25th in Malaga, Spain. Picasso was the first-born son of Jose Ruiz and Picasso Lopez. Picasso’s father was a watercolorist and a lecturer of art, as well a custodian in the local Malaga museum.

This then gives a clear indication that Picasso got most of his artistic skills from a known master in drawing who happened to be his father. He was also an infant genius in the Barcelona School of Art.

During his time, Picasso reinvented himself frequently and was at the front position of several artistic movements (Lyttle 2).

Picasso went to Paris when he was nineteen years of age and there, he got several artistic followings including beggars, outcasts among others. Picasso grew tired of these artistic works and began to look for inspirations from other places.

Picasso was introduced to the primitive art and the work of other primitive painters while still in Paris and was greatly moved (Huffington 2-3).

Primitivism was among the art movements in that era, and it involved artists who were trying to depart from the confines of the industrialized and modernized Europe.

Just like the Romanticism, primitivism was a response to the negative effects of the industrial revolution such as; overcrowding, massive pollution, rise in crime, prostitution among others (Brassai 2).

During this period, Artists searched for direct, instinctive and exotic non-urban cultures for inspirations.

Primitivism found its way in music as well as in art, especially Stravinsky’s ballet, “Rite of Spring,” that portrayed rituals of the pagan societies and introduced ideas from primitive music. The Rite of Spring caused a lot of riot in its initial performance in Paris.

The aggressive and explicitly sexual nature of the choreography coupled with the throbbing rhythms and discord had the same impact on the audience just as Picasso’s work. Picasso greatly admired Stravinsky’s works (Yudkin 6).

Les Demoiselles d’Avidnon

Les Demoiselles d’Avidnon

Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avidnon was revolutionary from both the artistic perspective and its social impact; this raw painting was done in 1907.

Les Demoiselles d’Avidnon was primitive but horrified its first viewers who came to acknowledge it as influential and a monumental piece of art with lots of value (Gombrich 2).

The painting depicts five nude prostitutes in a brothel, and that is why it was first named Le Bordel d’Avignon, referring to the bunch of prostitutes. The left figure is shown in profile looking towards the other four with her countenance painted in a style reflecting the Egyptian Art.

The two figures in the middle have Iberian characteristics and are gazing at the viewer, putting him in the position of a client. The other two figures on the right have twisted bodies and with a face that looks like archaic African masks.

There is a disfigured still life at the forefront of the painting that at a glance looks like an impression of traditional painting and focuses its tremendous exodus from tradition (Brassai 3).

Features of the painting

Picasso never followed the conventional standards of painting in this work and dismissed the rules of art composition, real-life precision and managing space. This is illustrated by the following features in this piece of work.

First, the two figures at the center are staring at each other directly and maybe suggestively at the viewers, therefore engaging the viewers in the painting.

Secondly, all the figures are distorted, i.e., breasts out of shape, arms and legs flat and three figures are masked instead of having a real face.

Thirdly, the paintings have bold brushed diagonal lines and angular planes which attach more violence to the composition.

Finally, yet importantly, the colors are precise only in a general view. Instead of using colors to reflect real-life coloring, colors are used to distinguish various forms in the painting (Goodrich 6-7).

Numerous of the techniques applied such as flat planes, deconstruction of human figures and the angularity of the form had a groundbreaking impact on the painting. Besides George Braque’s work, Les Demoiselles d’Avidnon was one of the initial cubist pieces of artwork.

It transformed the perception of art and aesthetics, paving the way for the following artistic movements including Surrealism and Dadaism.

The use of imagery originating from African Art was also groundbreaking. There are other artists who had incorporated the aspects of primitive art in their work, but Picasso’s work was the first to exhibit African fixation (Lyttle 2).

This piece of painting represented a rejection of the materialistic society, colonialism, traditional art, sexual reservations, and primitive customs and principles.

The fetishes and the setting of the premise for prostitution were some of the tools he used to convey the above subjects and the new artistic tools he used to stress his social messages (Cahill 5).

By depicting prostitutes that fended off in his painting, Picasso was stressing the cruelty that was at the center of being forced into prostitution.

By placing the viewer in the position of a client, Picasso forced them to candidly confront the reality of prostitution which was prevalent in European society during that time.

This was very shocking to many of the Audience who felt that prostitution was not a subject that should be dealt with in a well-bred society (Huffington 3).

Interpretation of the Picasso’s work

One of the motivations for cubism was to deconstruct images so that viewers could regard them in new ways. This is what Picasso did by depicting sexuality in this painting. In this case, he forced the audience to confront their attitude on sexuality and maybe reconsider them.

Picasso also brought together the notion of primitivism and his rebellion of the European conception of sexuality. The Iberian woman reflects the prostitutes, while the African women can be seen as sarcastic and a challenge to the ruined western society (Brassai 2).

Rather than the European looking down upon the African cultures at that time, the African culture judged the European culture and their moral hypocrisy.

Possibly, Picasso was thinking about the way Africans were judging the Europeans about the atrocities they committed against them during the colonial era.


Despite the flaws related to the conventional artistic standards, Picasso’s work was a masterpiece; in this painting, Picasso attempted to portray the real picture of the European society in the early 20th century.

During this period, subjects related to sexuality were never aired or was very limited in the public domain yet the rate of prostitution was very alarming. Picasso and his cohorts in the artistic world attribute these problems to the industrial revolution.

This piece of work was a diversion from the conventional urban works of art to the primitive arts to show some form of rebellion to the rot resulting from the industrialized urban European society in that era.

Picasso also attempts to put himself in the shoes of African who were experiencing all kinds of atrocities from the European colonial rule. Therefore, this piece of work was a combination of artistic work and imagery to depict European society in the early 20th century.

Work Cited

Brassai. Picasso and Company.Trans. Francis Price.New York: Doubleday &Company, 1996. Print.

Gombrich, Ice. The Story of Art. Hong Kong: Phaidon Press Limited, 1995. Print.

Huffington, Araianna. Picasso Creator and Destroyer. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998. Print.

Lyttle, Richard. Pablo Picasso the man and the Image. New York: Maccimillan Publishing, 1989. Print.

Tahhhill, Reay. Sex in History.New York: Scarborough House, 1992.

Yudkin, Jeremy. Understanding Music. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1996. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '20th Century Art - Pablo Picasso'. 13 March.

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