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Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon at 100 Opens at MoMA
Pablo Picasso, Spanish, 1881-1973. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907. Oil on canvas. 8' x 7' 8" (243.9 x 233.7 cm). Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest
© 2007 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

NEW YORK.-In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the creation of Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), the painting that marked a radical break from traditional artistic values of composition, perspective, harmony, and beauty, The Museum of Modern Art presents Picasso's Demoiselles d'Avignon at 100. On view from May 9 through August 27, 2007 , the exhibition examines the genesis of the epoch-making painting by reuniting it with nine preparatory studies from public and private collections. The exhibition is complemented by an installation in The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building that features conservation materials and a timeline tracing the painting’s fascinating 100-year history.

Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon at 100 is organized by Anna Swinbourne, Assistant Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art.

“In looking back over the past one hundred years, there has never been a work that so changed the course of modern or contemporary art ,” says John Elderfield, The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, The Museum of Modern Art. “It became apparent to artists who had at first scoffed at it that this painting had changed everything, including the future progress of Picasso’s art, which built on what the Demoiselles had achieved, and created what we now call Cubism.”

Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973) began making sketches and preparatory studies for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in the winter of 1906–07, producing hundreds over the ensuing months before arriving at the final composition in the summer of 1907. Combining Picasso's interest in the classical nude and antique Iberian statuary with his newfound passion for African art, the composition’s asymmetrical, angular figures and flat, splintered planes were rendered in clashes of color and style.

The eight-foot-square canvas created an enormous stir among visitors to Picasso’s studio. Dealers, critics, friends, and fellow artists such as Henri Matisse and André Derain reacted to the painting with shock, incomprehension, anger, or laughter. Picasso did not title the painting; it was referred to as The Philosophical Brothel until a friend of the artist, the writer André Salmon, entitled it Les Demoiselles d’Avignon on the occasion of its first public exhibition, the 1916 Salon d’Antin in Paris.

With the exception of that exhibition, the painting was rarely seen, and details of its whereabouts are largely undocumented until its acquisition in 1924 by the French collector Jacques Doucet. In 1937, MoMA’s founding director, Alfred H. Barr, who had seen the painting in Paris and had unsuccessfully tried to borrow it for the exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art, began the campaign to acquire it from the gallery to which it had been sold. The purchase was finalized in 1939, and the painting was exhibited that spring in the Museum’s tenth anniversary exhibition Art in Our Time, which inaugurated the Museum’s new building at 11 West 53 Street.

A cornerstone of the Museum’s collection, which includes 54 other paintings by Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon has seldom been lent by the Museum. It underwent extensive examination and conservation treatment during the Museum’s renovation and expansion, and returned to view in the new building in November 2004.

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