Explain the significance of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the primary significance of Picasso's Les Demoiselles d’Avignon exists on thematic and artistic levels.  In terms of the latter, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was the primary work that elevated Picasso to the status of being an innovator of art and the center of the Parisian art world.  Picasso used the opportunity of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon to silence any contemporary artists such as Cezanne or Matisse from competition with him.  Picasso was able to use concepts of space and design to convey a rather horrific view of both these women and the concept of unregulated sex, in general.  In stark contrast to the romanticizing of sexuality that can be seen in works like Matisse's Blue Nude, Picasso sought to create something else, something that brought out a different side to sexuality.  It is here where the thematic significance is evident.  Picasso was able to evoke the sheer disfiguring and horror of women in brothels.  Contrary to the artistic imposed notion of sexuality whereby artists were able to paint a picture of prostitution that was glamorous, Picasso evokes strict and straight fear.  The disfiguring of these women reflect how prostitution chokes the life out of both servicer and those serviced.  The masked and jagged nature of the subject matter reflects a sense of the "broken."  At the same time, Picasso is able to convey his own fear that comes at the hands of unprotected sex with multiple partners such as disease and infection.  In a time before the fear of STD's was warranted, Picasso demonstrates his own fear of death and sickness and acts as a prophet for the same fears that will dominate world culture about fifty years after the painting's inception.