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Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon Term Paper


Art is one field that an artist expresses himself to present worlds that are not known to many people. It is not just the work of an artist to employ what he thinks as appropriate to himself but to the audience that shall have to look at and judge his work. The styles employed in the creation of a piece of art can represent an abstract world or a real one.

In most cases, images can be created out of imaginations of the artist or may come from real life experiences that form a contemporary world of the artist. A reader or viewer of an image will therefore be subject to some state which will demand an analysis of an image in order to make his own judgments of the image.

One way that an accomplished artist can achieve this is through thus age of some works of other artist that may have preceded him. Examining that work done one artist therefore gives one an opportunity to make a logical analysis thus coming up with a certain conclusion about some aspects of the image.

Such aspects could be a general outlook on the way formal styles may have been used in a piece of work. Out of such analysis, questions related to subjects like the possibility of that piece of art drawing a relationship to other motifs in the same field often arise. These relationships are important for they carry answers to whether the style used by an artist has created a link with art-historical traditions, or has it caused a break with these traditions.

If on one hand it has caused a break, shall it be received kindly by other players in the field of art or lead to harsh criticisms? One piece of art that caused such conflicting receptions from its audience was a piece by Pablo Picasso les Demoiselles d’Avignon. The piece has been given a critical analysis by some other renowned scholars like Steinberg Leo and revealed the some findings as shall be discussed.

Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is a piece of artwork that presents the subject of position. However, at the time of making of this elegant piece of work, many interpretations were made, most of them condemning it. This may be largely due to the unfamiliar cubist style that was just emerging at the time. His career embodies an era in painting and conception, aside from the abstraction and fictional paintings that were to his days only a form of painting.

He was a man destined to use other techniques in painting to communicate messages to his audience. The imitation of collage and surrealism led to the birth of a new kind of interpretation. Cubism that Picasso was perusing was viewed by his critics as deliberate rejection of traditional oil paint on canvas by the use of lowly and temporary materials available to anyone (Antliff, & Leighten, 2001).

It was such skills that led to the production of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon that led to high criticism. This may have been the result of failure by the observers to make a direct interpretation of the meaning that the subjects in the paint presented. Although, he was in the middle of such criticisms, the figure however came to be embraced by later day art scholars as the pioneer of cubism in art.

In essence, Picasso and other artists who embraced his style of painting changed the world of fine arts from the traditional oil paint on canvas to cubism, which later gave birth to other painting techniques like surrealism and incorporation of collages in oil paint on canvas (Anderson & Anderson, 2002).

Form of the painting

The painting’s scene is set in a brothel. The subjects in the scenes are women, depicted as prostitutes, presented in a savagery manner. They are depicted in a way to suggest that they are waiting for a client. There are three figures to the left of the scene and two other figures to the right of the same scene.

All figures are presented behind a curtain. The curtain has an exposure effect to the prostitutes, and the viewer, such that at a first glance, the viewer seems to be gazing at the prostitutes, and the prostitutes returning the same gaze in turn. An overall effect is that the prostitutes poses like they are all menacingly fighting for a male client.

Depth and space effect

The painting lacks depth and space as its formal characteristics. The space is blocked presenting a scene without an outlet to the infinite world. The figures in the scene are flattened causing some kind of projection that in the real world, as perceived by a viewer, the outward projection which seems to push the viewers away from the scene.

This is enhanced by the use of cold and acidic colors that with a broken arabesque bringing out a fragmented effect, causing the figures to bring forth an aesthetic which is not discrete in both dimension and their relative positions in space (Steinberg, 1988).

As can be observed, the three figures on the left side of the scene, in their standing posture, overlap with each other. The overlap effect not only enhances some sense of motion to or transition in posture from the far left figure to the third central figure.

To justify this, the first woman is shown as flat and almost drooping around her neck, with her hands loosely hanging downwards as if shying away from a sharp gaze of an onlooker, probably a man. Secondly, the second figure tells an observer of some life in it. Her hand is raised in a seductive gesture, as well as looking directly with appealing eyes.

Lastly, the final figure has her hands raised, a more cheerful look and more lively than the first two. The overall overlap effect if qualified by the other images in the scene, perfectly completing one another to give the form through color enhancement. There is no much architecture in the scene that proves an indoor scene.

The only evidence existing for us to suggest that the women are indoors is the presence of the curtains. Despite the flatness of the images, form and some solidity is shown by the worn masks of the two figures on the left hand side of the scene. The idea of cubism is has been presented by Picasso in this image by creation of three dimensional natural space that builds volume all round the scene in the painting.

Relationship with other artworks

The image in the painting was created based on majorly cubism. Therefore, any relationships shall be drawn basically from the employment of this technique. Collage bears so much resemblance to this piece of art work. Collage employs the technique of cutting, placing and gluing.

This idea was also borrowed in the creation of Les Demoiselles d, Avignon. In collage, colorful pieces of material, usually cheap and available materials are put together and produced in mass. However, the style that Picasso used did not directly involve the technique of patching up pieces but the employment of a painting style to create a piece of art that resembles collage.

However, there is a conflict that occurs between the cubism style painting in art and modernism as presented in the painting that a surrealist employs. Picasso follows what some scholars in the field of art have termed to as “primitive” claiming that the ingenuity of art has its roots to one’s childhood. The argument presented by him suggests an artist’s work becomes better if art is not his preoccupation.

This causes a conflict in the adoption and interpretation of art and perhaps its use of cultural items to represent some aspects of art (Chave, 1994). The use masks for instance have been dubbed as the employment of “primitivism” by the use of the primitive. To Picasso, his employment of African objects explains the new found Value of African objects in the world of art.

This employment of mask in les Demoiselles d’Avignon, as a primitive adoption (Foster, 1985) of artistic objects, symbolically shows the distinction in the social class between a white woman and a black woman (Harrington, 2004). In view of Steinberg’s overview over Picasso’s painting all the issue s presented in the painting as coming direct from the mind on Picasso.

He suggests that the painting has a peculiar touch that does not have any reference to cubism or any reference from the preceding works of Picasso himself. Steinberg termed the image as a total “sexual metaphor” and concluding that Picasso did not wander away from his initial idea during the creation of the painting (Steinberg, 1988). In addition Steinberg’s analysis the painting’s formal properties of space have been compressed not from the back to the front of the images but from the sides of the images.


This piece of image that is presented by Picasso has got no single and representative analysis that can be used as a basis of concluding what it represents. However the aspect of the subject, five ladies, who are actually nudes, is prostitution. This led to many reactions from different groups of people coming with different over views concerning the images.

The role of the masks is not clear, subjecting it open discussion. Some images may present a contemporary world to which an artist belongs. In the case of les Demoiselles d’Avignon, it cannot be concluded that Picasso lived in a prostituting society in which he had a role to play. The figures in the scenes are presented looking menacing as if there is a struggle among them over a male client. This is the center of criticism that many an analyst has drawn.

However the conclusion, the idea with which Picasso presented his work was all new to the art world of his time. In his bid to create volume around the scene, he causes a contraction of subjects, not in the usual manner in the sequence of back-to-front but from the sides. In conclusion, the impression that Picasso brings forth is a subject of sexual fulfillment, in which a woman is seen as a gratifier of a man in sex.


Anderson, W. & Anderson, V. (2002). Picassos Brothel: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. New York: Other Press. Retrived 4 June 2011.

Antliff, M., & Leighten, P. (2001).Cubism and Culture. New York: Thames & Hudson Inc. Retrieved.

Chave, C.C. (1994). New encounters with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon: Gender, Race and the Origins of Cubism: The Art Bulletin76, No. 4, 596-611. Retrieved from JSTOR database.

Foster, H. (1985). The “Primitive” Unconscious of Modern Art: October, 34, 45-70. Retrieved from JSTOR database

Harrington, A. (2004). Art and social theory: sociological arguments in its aesthetics. Cambridge: Polity Press. Retrieved.

Steinberg, L. (1988).The Philosophical Brothel: October 3, 3-75. Retrieved from JSTOR database.

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"Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon." IvyPanda, 25 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/picassos-les-demoiselles-davignon/.

1. IvyPanda. "Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon." December 25, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/picassos-les-demoiselles-davignon/.


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IvyPanda. 2019. "Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon." December 25, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/picassos-les-demoiselles-davignon/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon'. 25 December.

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