Les Mademoiselles d'Avignon ( preserved in Museum of Modern art, New York) is one of the most famous of Picasso's paintings. Painted in France, 1907, it is a pivotal work in the history and development of modern art. It was a shocking piece of art painting that depicted five prostitutes in a brothel. Picasso created over one hundred sketched and studies in preparation of this painting, which became a pioneer of early Cubism. At the time when this painting was made, Picasso was working in his Montmartre studio, popularly known as the Bateau-Lavoir. He was developing a new pictorial language that showed a progression from the 'outer presence to inner shapes, from color to structure, and from modified romanticism to a deepening formalism'.
This painting is said to have blended together Picasso's previous themes and subjects with Iberian statuary-ancient pre-Spanish sculpture-and African art, adored for its seemingly abstract simplifications. This Picasso painting has also been regarded as the young Picasso's violent reaction to Henri Matisse's bold and idyllic 1906 masterpiece, Le Bonheur de Vivre. While some critics regard it as an unfinished work, others claim that inconsistency is intrinsic to this Picasso painting.
This being the first masterpiece of the historical movement named Cubism, required to unleash its unbridled energy in an artistic vocabulary unknown and untied to the existing canon. Of all the paintings in Picasso's oeuvre, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon presents a singular challenge for interpreting its physical composition as well as its psychological content due to its scale, composition, and change in pictorial style. A close examination of this transitional painting and a comparison with some closely related works allows us to better understand how the painting was conceived and executed.
Picasso painted each of the figures differently. The woman pulling the curtain on the far left has heavy paint application and her head is the most cubist of all, having sharp geometric shapes. The cubist head of the crouching figure was revised from an Iberian figure and the masked figure was derived from an African mask. The two Iberian figures at the center are evidently inspired by Iberian sculptures, characterized by their prominent ears and wide, staring eyes. The multiplicity of styles within the work has given rise to much critical debate. While some look at this famous Picasso painting as evidence of a transitional period in Picasso's art, an endeavor to relate his earlier work to Cubism, others claim that the multiplicity is but intentional. It is a deliberate attempt, a careful plan to arrest the viewer's attention. The five women seem to be disconnected from each other, being completely unaware of their subjective presence. They seem to be directing all their attention towards the viewer, their divergent styles enhancing the effect. The painting is pregnant with meanings, and indicates the 'trauma of the gaze' and violence inherent in sexual relationships.