TALKING IMAGES 4 – PABLO PICASSO: LES DEMOISELLES D’AVIGNON

 

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Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is certainly my most favourite painting, for two quite different reasons.  Firstly, of course, I like its appearance, I like it as an image.  But my second reason for liking this work is certainly stronger – I love this work because I find it hugely exciting and  inspirational.

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Ten or more years ago, when photography was becoming a serious interest, I attended Adult Education classes on Modern Art, which were run by Bristol University.  I’d been photographing for years in an instinctive way and so that was not so new, but the “World of Art” was totally new, it gripped me and it has never let me go – and I could see that looking at art would be a help in creating photographs.

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I saw Picasso’s image and was transfixed, and these feelings only increased when our teacher described it as “the first picture painted not to be liked”.   Here was an image that was not supposed to provide enjoyable viewing but, rather, to shock and outrage audiences – Picasso was showing the world what he could do, and firmly establishing himself in the most modern reaches of Modern Art.  As Wikipedia says, “With the bizarre painting that appalled and electrified the cognoscenti, …… Picasso effectively appropriated the role of avant-garde wild beast—a role that, as far as public opinion was concerned, he was never to relinquish.”.

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Yes, I very much like this as an image, but I like it even more for what it represents, which is pure genius, the creation of a person with vast abilities, the creation of a person not at all afraid to be different from everyone else. This painting and what it represents both excites me, and provides me with vast and ongoing inspiration and courage.  The courage and motivation to keep looking through the viewfinder, to keep on making pictures, to always be trying to think of differing approaches to pictures – and the courage to post these pictures out into public view on this blog.

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And this painting is always with me, inspiring me,  as I have a large framed edition of it up on the wall beside the desk and computer where FATman Photos first sees the light of day – see the photo above.

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Les Demoiselles d’Avignon; Pablo Picasso; 1907.

So, after all that, what does Les Demoiselles actually show?  I am certainly not vastly knowledgeable about this work of art, but here’s how it seems to me.  It shows a group of prostitutes in a brothel but, while the title suggests the brothel to be in France, I think I recall reading that it was in fact in Spain.  To me, the picture consists of two parts.  The five women inhabit one, and crushed up against this image, right in the foreground, there is a little, triangular table with some fruit on it.

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The portion of the image containing the women can itself be divided into at least three parts, on the basis of how the women and their surroundings are depicted.  The lady on the left is tinged reddish and seems to be a part of the red left hand edge of the image.  Moving right, the next two women are perhaps the most “normally” presented, with more realistic skin tones, “alluring” poses, and mostly set against a pale bluish background.  To me, their sadly staring eyes are the image’s strongest point – I can feel those sad gazes boring right through me!

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Lastly, there are the two ladies on the right, who are set against darker blue, and whose faces are thought to be derived from Picasso’s interest in African tribal art.  And finally, to complete the weird atmosphere this image conjures, the woman at lower right is seated facing away from us but, despite this, she has turned her head through 180 degrees to stare at us directly over her back,  just as owls do – but just as you and I don’t!

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You may not like this picture, for reasons that may include the nature of the subjects that it depicts and the style in which they have been depicted.   However it was, in today’s parlance, a real Game Changer.  After this, Art would never be the same again – and for that reason I view this image with a mixture of awe, vast excitement and profound respect.
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About Adrian Lewis
Photographer working in monochrome, colour and combinations of the two - with a great liking for all sorts of images, including Minimalism, landscapes, abstracts, soft colour, people, movement, nature - I like to be adventurous in my photography, trying new ideas and working in many genres. And I'm fond of Full English Breakfasts and Duvel golden ale, though not necessarily together.

24 Responses to TALKING IMAGES 4 – PABLO PICASSO: LES DEMOISELLES D’AVIGNON

  1. Malin H says:

    Very interesting post, my friend!

    I don’t know if you have seen this;

    http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/les-demoiselles-davignon.html

    Like

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Glad you like it, Malin. No, I haven’t seen this link – very interesting text and commentary – how I love this painting! >>> and its very good to hear more about it! Many thanks! Adrian

      Like

  2. Meanderer says:

    Superb post, Adrian. Firstly, I love the image of you relaxed at home next to your favourite painting. Secondly, I love your explanation as to why you love this work.

    I first studied Art History a few years ago on an OU course and absolutely loved it. We covered many 19th century artists of different nationalities, and it is where I first fell in love with the work of Cezanne and Turner. I remember having a very heated debate on a forum about why I loved Cezanne’s work (he seems to be a bit like Marmite – people either love his work or hate it). I love the emotional buzz one gets from his and Turner’s work, where it’s not so much about the subject, but the use of colour and form which creates the feeling.

    I looked out for the Turner film here and was disapppinted to find it was only showing in select cinemas – miles away. Like you, I’ll wait for the DVD. Turner was a very interesting person – as probably all artists are, actually. I love artistic eccentricity – the strange quirks, and ups and downs. It must have been exciting and despairing to have been at the forefront of a major change in the art movement at that time.

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    • Meanderer says:

      I forgot to say, I appreciate this artwork. It reminds me of Cezanne’s ‘Bathers’ which I argued for – against rather heated opinions of the opposite kind 🙂

      Like

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Wow!, thank you very much for this wonderful response, M! I enjoy Cezanne’s work too – but I forgot to mention Turner in my “most admired” list – he really gets to me, and I’m fascinated by both his art and him – as I said to poppytump far below here, I can spend ages just gazing into Turner’s self-portrait!

      Maybe its thought that the Turner film will not be “mass market enough” for wide release – maybe Mr Turner 2 will recast him as a superhero ….

      There’s always been conservatism in art, hasn’t there, an “establishment” that thinks it knows how things “should and must” be done – same in photography. Artists have to fight it, and some only triumph posthumously – van Gogh. It must have taken a lot of character and motivation to fight against such conservative “elites”. Thanks again. A

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  3. poppytump says:

    Wonderful to hear your enthusiastic thoughts on your favourite painting ! I’m not sure I could pinpoint mine .

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Thank you, Poppy, glad this hit a chord! But aside from this painting, I think I would be hard put to pinpoint a favourite too >>> it would probably be something by Degas or Manet, or possibly Toulouse-Lautrec. Adrian 🙂

      Like

  4. bananabatman says:

    Artistic education. Exactly what I need Adrian, as you well know. Actually, I am beginning to appreciate looking at the art of Picasso, even though I will never fully understand it. Dave.

    Like

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Exactly what you need? Ah, you engineers …. 🙂 … – any particular bits of Picasso you like? A

      Like

      • bananabatman says:

        Ah, you artists…. 🙂 . I didn’t actually say ‘like’ Adrian. I chose my words carefully. Lets just say that I have been looking at some of his work recently and have not run out ‘screaming’. I’ve certainly come to understand that he was very talented. I don’t have anything hung on my walls though. By the way, your study is much tidier than mine.

        Like

        • Adrian Lewis says:

          Hahaha! >>> yes, you’re choosing your words with care, very diplomatic! Wary of getting black-balled at The Sliderule Club, are we???

          But tidier? No, my camera always lies. Several “objets d’arts” (aka junk) were discretely “relocated” for this shot, which does in any case show the tidiest (and barest) part of my rat hole. A 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  5. paula graham says:

    Picasso…a genius at life, and living.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Narration, narration, narration. A new appreciation. 😉
    That wasn’t meant to rhyme, but you know what I mean, bud.
    Enjoy. 🙂 xxx ATP

    Like

  7. Sue Vincent says:

    It has never been my favourite… I think it was simply designed to make people take note of his artistic anarchy by shocking them. On the other hand you can see his mastery of line and paint. It is often forgotten what a superlative traditional artist he was, which is why the later works have the integrity they do and no five year old could have painted them.

    Like

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Yes, that’s exactly what it was meant to do. His earliest works really are traditional, but its his Blue and Rose periods and his clowns / acrobats, after that, that are my favourites. At and after Cubism, most of it is too abstract for me. Thanks for your thoughts, Sue. Adrian

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sue Vincent says:

        I rather like the later stuff these days…never used to.. I think the economy of line attracts me.

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        • Adrian Lewis says:

          Economy of line, that’s a good phrase – a kind of Minimalism I suppose. By the way, are you a fan of Turner? I see a film about him is imminent, and must see it. A

          Like

          • Sue Vincent says:

            How could I not love Turner’s work… the way he captured the light in the mists over my neck of the woods is still one of the best I have ever seen.. he loved the northern skies as much as I do, and it shows.

            Liked by 1 person

          • poppytump says:

            Ah I would be interested what you make of it Adrian . I saw it yesterday . Excellent acting .. but very long .. a little lacking in substance I felt … on the other hand I hadn’t read a synopsis or reviews and didn’t know what to expect anyway . However it’s made me more curious about his life so maybe that’s what has come out of it I shall be doing some research I think 🙂

            Like

            • Adrian Lewis says:

              Poppy, thanks for these impressions (Turner?, impressions? >>> no pun intended!). I’ll get the dvd no matter, as he’s a hero of mine. And if you research his life you may encounter some recent revelations about his personal life, his lovelife to be precise – things that were frowned upon in his day.

              I have a Taschen book on Turner (ISBN 978-3-8228-6325-1) and the back cover shows his self-portrait and, mad as I am, I have spent long whiles peering into that face. Why? Well, admiration – as and with Les Demoiselles, not a little awe as well. Adrian

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