Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

    Artist: Pablo Picasso
    Year: 1907
    Medium: Oil on canvas
    Location: Museum of Modern Art
    Dimension: 96 in × 92 in
    243.9 cm × 233.7 cm

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was the painting that launched a whole new genre of style and expression. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The young Ladies of Avignon) was originally titled “The Brothel of Avignon,” and took two years to complete. It was the art work that started a new movement, to be known as cubism. As with any new art form, or style, it was to create a good deal of controversy and debate, even amongst Picasso’s closest friends.

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

The painting was originally to be a brothel scene with prostitutes and their customers. However, as the piece progressed, Picasso made sweeping changes and the resulting image became an expressive image of abstract forms and intertwining shapes.

This formed the basis of this new cubism form.

At the time, Picasso had been studying African art forms, and on the image, we can see three of the women wearing African ceremonial masks, such as the Mboom. This inclusion is also likely due to the recent colonial trade which had been important to Europe from Africa, which had also been an influence on western art.

The piece exhibits asymmetrical balance through the center point, and the use of complimentary colors of blues and oranges set the tone extremely well for the piece.

The piece is also interesting in that both organic and geometric shapes have been used to create the forms of the women. In the top right hand corner, we have a woman formed from sharp geometric forms, squares, diamonds and the like. This form is the most cubist of the piece.

The woman on the left also exhibits such forms, although not to the same dramatic extent.

The other three shapes of the figures are organic; they are formed with the more gentle curves more normal of a woman. But on closer inspection, one can see that each of these has been painted in different styles, and this further adds to the uniqueness and complexity to the entire piece.

Despite the forms being greatly simplified, the overall impact of the piece is one of great movement and the overall effect is almost collage-like. It is also in stark contrast to the representational paintings which had been painted since the discovery of perspective during the renaissance years. The form of this painting is very flat.  Les Demoiselles d’Avignon became one of Picasso’s most famous pieces.

Although he had several people closely following his career and collecting his works, Picasso decided to keep this painting out of sight for many years. This was until 1924 when it was sold for 25,000 francs to Jacques Doucet. By this time, Picasso was very much on top of the art world and seemingly didn’t need to sell the painting, especially for such a low sum, but he did so as Doucet promised it would be left to the Louvre in his will.

However, this did not happen and the painting was sold onto other private collectors, before eventually finding its permanent home in The Museum of Modern Art in New York from 1937.

About Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso was a Spanish artist, born in 1884 in Malaga, Spain. He was to expatriate to France, setting up base in Paris in 1904, and died in Mougins, in the south of France in 1973.

He worked closely for many years with Georges Braque, where between the two of them, created and developed the cubist form which was to dramatically change the way art was seen and portrayed.

He was part of an elite group of creative artists and writers in Paris, which included Hemmingway, and Stein (who was to become a serious collector of his), and of course the lover of Dora Maar.


Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is a very important piece of art work in the history of art. Pablo Picasso, along with Georges Braque, greatly shifted the way art had been moving and progressing, to new and interesting forms. Like the impressionist painters before them, Picasso’s vision and new techniques has greatly expanded the way other artists may express themselves.

2 responses to “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”

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