The artwork listed here is one of Pablo Picasso’s most infamous pieces, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon produced while he was exploring form and style in re-presenting ‘reality’. What we see here is thus the advent of cubism, or rather what art critics have terms ‘protocubism,’ and before cubism became a formal approach adopted by Picasso and Georges Braque. The painting here, drawn in 1907, is most reflective of styles in the 20th century. In fact, cubism inspired other art movements such as surrealism and futurism among others.
It is certainly a modern, avant-garde, work of art not only because it is located in the transition of the century but more importantly it reflected forms and perspectives that we have come to describe as ‘modern. ’ Cubism is about challenging perspectives and seeing with ‘the mind’s eye’. It is, in many ways, reflective of the popularity of psychoanalysis and the explorations of the unconscious with Freud’s work. Surrealism would go on to develop the perspective of the ‘mind’s eye’ even further.
In Demoiselles, Picasso, inspired by the Impressionists, interrogates the concept of beauty and realism that has pervaded Romantic art. Here, female beauty is redefined by odd proportions, ghastly and ‘deformed’ faces, and misaligned planes of perspective that defy realism. In this painting we also see how there is a high degree of abstraction and an emphasis on curves, lines, and shapes – what Picasso saw to be the ‘essence’ of all material things since he was inspired by ‘primitive’ art that emphasised simplicity.
The painting seems also to reject planes and dimensions of reality by emphasising a two-dimensional plane, a perspective that Paul Cezanne had gestured to in his paintings. It is also said that Cezanne had inspired the ‘Cubist’ style with his still life paintings of bowls of fruit and apples and oranges. The masks adorned by the women are certainly attributed to Picasso’s growing interest in primal art.
Here, the question of femininity is interrogated and this yet again is reflected of 20th century social and political movements with the first wave of women’s rights occurring at the turn of the century. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is undoubtedly an artwork of the 20th century both thematically and stylistically. Its bright colours, use of shades and contrast and the distortion of form and proportion heralded a new age in art history.