Before the 20th century, the artist had always tried to imitate nature. Scenes, often based on religious, mythological or true to life everyday events, were made to appear as realistic as possible, ‘as if seen through a window'. However, with the end of the 19th century, many changes were taking place. New scientific discoveries such as ‘The Theory of Relativity', and Freudian insights into the human psyche and the interpretation of dreams gave way to a new way of thinking. New materials and new inventions, such as the railway, the car, the camera and of course the x-ray machine, were all having an impact on the way people saw things. The x-ray machine made people more aware of the fact that there was more to the world than met the eye. It was fast becoming an industrial age. Artists needed a new way and a fresh approach that would express the hopes of a new age; it was the beginnings of ‘Modernism!' Art would never be the same again.
Many artists felt the urge to rebel against the academic and art establishment in order to achieve artistic freedom. They were becoming increasingly tired of the same old classical paintings and the same methods of producing them. Some, such as the impressionists, had begun to break away, Paul Cézanne being a case in point. Eventually he went a step further and started to experiment by flattening his still life images and emphasising the plural viewpoint given by binocular vision. He had also started to play around with the simplification of natural forms by means of Platonic cylinders, spheres, pyramids and cubes.

The Grounds of Chateau Noir Paul Cezanne.

Cézannes use of perspective, composition and colour had profound influence on 20th century art. Even based on the few pieces I have had the privilege of viewing during gallery visits in London, it is easy to see why Cézannes later work was such a refreshing influence on other artists such as Matisse, Braque and Pablo Picasso. Of Cezanne, Picasso said the following "My one and only master…The father of us all".

The Blue Nude Memory of Biskra: Matisse 1907

Unlike the classical artists of the time who were pre-occupied with the outer world, Picasso was becoming more and more interested in the inner one. In the summer of 1906, during Picasso's stay in Gosol, Spain, his work entered a new phase, marked by the influence of Cezanne, Greek, Iberian, and African art. His celebrated Portrait of Gertrude Stein (1905-1906, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City) reveals a mask like treatment of her face.

Portrait Gertrude Stein 1905-06. Picasso

The key work of this early period, however, is Les demoiselles d'Avignon (1907, Museum of Modern Art, New York City) S
o radical in style, with its picture surface resembling fractured glass, it was not even understood by contemporary avant-garde painters and critics. Now absent were both spatial depth and the ideal form of the female nude, which Picasso restructured into harsh, angular planes. He rejected the gentle light and shading effects often used in classical painting along with the western ideal of classical beauty, in favour of this garish primitive display. As we have seen, others before Picasso had already rejected Western standards, but no other painting before this work had such disregard for them in such an obvious way.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Pablo Picasso. 1907

Picasso's had based his original concept for this painting on Paul Cezanne's "Bathers." Having seen this beautiful painting in the National Gallery London, it is easy for me to see the influence that it had on Picasso's "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon". There are a number of similarities between Picassos' work and the compositions by Cezanne in both his "Bathers" and especially in "Five Bathers", it being no coincidence that in both works there are five nude women. At the time, Picasso was under a great deal of pressure as Matisse was receiving a lot of attention for his work. He needed something new, something that would really grab the attention of the critics.

'The Bathers.' Paul Cezanne.

‘The Five Bathers.' Paul Cezanne
Picasso eventually developed a more ambitious approach. He set the scene in a brothel on the Avignon Street of Barcelona, which had a reputation for prostitution; this was certainly a risky choice for the time. Picasso created over one hundred sketches and studies in preparation for this work; this in itself is interesting and helpful in allowing us to see the development of this groundbreaking piece.
In Picasso's words, "According to my first idea, there were also going to be men in the painting. There was a student holding a skull, and a sailor. The women were eating- that explains the bowl of fruit that is still in the painting. Then it changed and became what it is now."

Preliminary sketches for "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon"

The painting metamorphosed as he worked on it; Picasso painted over the clients (the sailor and the student), leaving the five women to gaze out at the viewer, their faces terrifyingly bold and solicitous. There is a strong undercurrent of sexual anxiety. When Picasso painted this work, many including him had a morbid fear of the threat of disease and death associated with syphilis and other sexual diseases; his original sketches show a skull that may have been used to symbolically represent death. The way in which Picasso has distorted and fragmented the bodies of the women is often considered an expression of his association of sexual pleasure with the threat of disease and death. In the scene, the prostitutes have pushed aside the two curtains, with arms up in the air above their heads; each striking seductive poses creating an almost theatrical scene inviting you to look. Yet once they have your gaze, their looks would not be considered attractive in the conventional sense. They seem almost threatening with their wide-eyed stares and the threatening looking masks, an almost savage display.
The features of the three women to the left were inspired by the wooden carvings on which he had worked in the summer of 1906, influenced by the memory of the prehistoric Spanish sculpture he had seen in the Louvre. The two women to the right were based on the masks that Picasso saw in the African and Oceanic collections in the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro in Paris. While no specific African or Pacific sources have been identified, Picasso was deeply impressed by what he saw in these collections, and they were to be one of his primary influences in the coming years. African and primitive art was also a major influence to many of his contemporises at that time, particularly, his friend Braque.

Art historians once classified this phase of Picasso's work as his "Negro Period." French imperialism in Africa and the Pacific was at its high point, and gunboats and trading steamers brought back ritual carvings and masks as curiosities. While the African carvings, which Picasso owned, had a kind of dignified aloofness, he, like other Europeans of his time, viewed Africa as the symbol of savagery. Unlike most Europeans, however, Picasso saw this savagery as a source of vitality and renewal that he wanted to incorporate for himself and for European painting. His interpretation of African art, in these mask-like faces, had been based on this idea of African savagery; his brush-strokes are hacking, impetuous, and violent and in some places, the paint is thickly applied. The colours unlike other paintings of Picasso's that I have seen are more earthy and subdued. I interviewed a friend of mine who had recently been to see "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," in New York. He felt that, "the colours Picasso had used were a complete break from his preceding work and not as bright as his later, a clear changing point."
Most daring of all is that on closer inspection of the work one can still see the table just jutting from the centre of the canvas. This would seem to suggest that Picasso has dared to replace the sitting men (the sailor and the student) or so-called clients that he had originally intended, with you the viewer. Unbelievably daring for its time, one can only imagine how the public, still adjusting in shock to anything other than a traditional, classical style painting, would have reacted to what must have been considered coarse, immoral even horrific. Now here they are, placed at the table of a brothel staring, at these fierce looking prostitutes.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon was so shockingly new that Gertrude Stein called it "a veritable cataclysm." She meant this as a compliment. Picasso kept it in his studio, showing it to a select few for quite some time. Georges Braque first saw it in Picasso's studio, saying it appeared as if Picasso had been drinking turpentine in order to spit fire. Others were also shocked. Picasso's patron, Leo Stein, said sarcastically, "You've been trying to paint the fourth dimension. How amusing!" Matisse also considered it a mockery of avant-garde aims and he vowed that he would "sink" his rival. The Russian collector Shuchukin cried "What a loss for French art!" News of it spread like a shockwave in the art world. In fact, only Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, just beginning as an art dealer, recognised its importance and bought all of the preliminary studies for it. He wanted to buy the painting too, but Picasso simply rolled it up and said that it was not for sale. When finally revealed some nine years after it was painted, not only did this painting later become a turning point duly remarked upon in every history of modern art, but Picasso felt at the time that his whole understanding of painting had been revised in the course of this canvas creation. He called it his "first exorcism picture," suggesting that he was well aware of the uniqueness of this piece, if not for the world of art at least for himself.
Nothing in the history of art had been quite as revolutionary as this. Carsten-Peter Warncke states in his book ‘Picasso' ‘"Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" is a meticulously considered, scrupulously calculated visual experience without equal.' Even though Picasso could not be called the sole creator of cubism, this painting opened the floodgates of what was to be a short lived but none the less important part of art history. It truly shook the art world, freeing many artists' minds, opening them up to new and radical approaches. "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" was truly the turning point of 20th century art.http://www.oppapers.com/essays/Miss/130596

Miss 7.7 of 10 on the basis of 2433 Review.