LES DEMOISELLES D'AVIGNON
LES DEMOISELLES D'AVIGNON, PABLO PICASSO, 1907, OIL ON CANVAS, MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK CITY, UNITED STATES
© 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) represents a blossoming intertwinement of primitivism, eroticism, and modernism. Richard Leppert writes that, as a linchpin in the modern art tradition, Les Demoiselles represents the well-established dynamic of masculine cultural authority, equating art with creative genius, and creative genius with masculinity. Picasso did not, in any way, disrupt this narrative—rather, he more deeply entrenched its power by combining additionally damaging racial references. The African masks painted on to two of the figures in Les Demoiselles at least indirectly reference the male fear of contagion: “the very look of the paintings fetishizes this imagined primitivism, and this despite the fact that women’s skin color in the painting is—more or less—white.”1 The women look out at the viewer in a confrontational manner (perhaps referring to Olympia), creating an image of the female object as increasingly sexually aggressive. Picasso extends the visual history of women’s exploitation for male pleasure while deepening the wound by doubly fetishizing the primitive nude. Perhaps this should come as no surprise: as Picasso once put it, “Women are machines for suffering.”2
1. Richard Leppert, The Nude: The Cultural Rhetoric of the Body in the Art of Western Modernity, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2007, 136.
2. Mark Hudson, "Pablo Picasso: Women are either goddesses or doormats," Daily Telegraph, August 4, 2016.