Art and Images in Psychiatry |

Picasso's Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

James C. Harris, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008;65(6):620-621. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.65.6.620.
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Pablo Picasso's monumental painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon(The Young Women of Avignon), completed in 1907, is one of the most important paintings of the 20th century, representing, as it does, the beginnings of modern art. It constituted a decisive assault on the past, on representational painting and the traditional conception of pictorial space, to establish a new aesthetic. Picasso (1881-1973) disliked this title, which was given by his friend André Salmon for its first public showing in 1916. For Picasso, it was Le Bordel d’Avignon, or simply mon bordel(my brothel), and the women filles(a term used for prostitutes at the time).3,4Demoisellesor maidens was misleadingly euphemistic. When he showed his 8-foot-square canvas to fellow painters, critics, and friends, he was met with indignation, shock, and outrage; they were repelled by the ugliness of the women. At first, Henri Matisse laughed and considered it a hoax. Georges Braque (1882-1963) suggested that Picasso had been drinking turpentine and spitting fire, and André Derain reportedly predicted, “One of these days [we shall] find Picasso hanged from a rope behind his big painting.”3(p234)Initially, for them the painting was brutal and incomprehensible.

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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Spanish. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907. Oil on canvas, 8 × 7.67 ft (243.9 × 233.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York (http://www.moma.org/collection/conservation/demoiselles/index.html). Acquired through the Lille P. Bliss Bequest (333.1939). © 2008 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo credit: © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, New York.

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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Spanish. Sketch for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907. Pastel on paper. Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, Basel, Switzerland. © 2008 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

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