Picasso used drawing throughout his career in order to experiment with different artistic problems: how to show volume, mass and weight; how to convey movement through gesture; how to establish monumentality and scale. The preliminary drawings that he executed during this summer of outstanding productivity not only demonstrate the various stages and processes that led to the final compositions of the chef-d’oeuvres from this period, but also constitute a vital body of experimental work that ultimately resulted in the invention of Cubism. Almost all of these studies, the present work included, deal with the theme of the female nude—a subject of which Picasso never tired. Picasso’s attention here is on the figure’s face, particularly on the angularity and dimensions of the nose which is rendered with a network of cross-hatching.
This period for Picasso was marked by an enthusiastic reaction to the African tribal sculptures that began to flood the museums and private collections in Paris after the turn of the twentieth century. These objects encouraged an entire generation of artists in Paris to expand the boundaries of representation. Artists such as Constantin Brancusi, Henri Matisse and Andre Derain invoked the forms of tribal sculpture as they sought out a new visual language. The dramatic simplification of form and shamanistic presence of these works appealed to Picasso and his own reaction to these works was particularly resonant in Les Demoiselles d'Avignon and related studies such as the present work.
Years after he completed the present work, Picasso told Françoise Gilot about his appreciation for African art and its impact on his pictures, “When I became interested in negro art….it was because at the time I was against what was called beauty in museums….men had made those masks for a sacred purpose, a magic purpose, as a kind of mediation between themselves and the unknown hostile forces that surrounded them, in order to overcome their fear and horror by giving it a form and an image. At that moment, I realized that this was what painting was all about. Painting isn’t an aesthetic operation; it’s a form of magic designed as a mediator between this strange, hostile world and us, a way of seizing power by giving form to our terrors as well as to our desires” (quoted in Pierre Daix, Picasso, Life and Art, New York, 1993, p. 75).
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