Artibus et Historiae no. 9 (V)

1984, ISSN 0391-9064

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ELIZABETH HUTTON TURNER - Who is in the Brothel of Avignon? A Case for Context

"Who is in the Brothel of Avignon?", a question inferred by the joking and play-acting in front of Pablo Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, provides a basis for an examination of its formal and symbolic possibilities. A re-examination of the familiar anecdotes, snapshots, sketches and quotations concerning the creation of the Demoiselles places the genesis of the painting squarely in the context of the Bateau-Lavoir where caricature in the tradition of Alfred Jarry was the weapon of the avant-garde. Placed within the mocking arena of the brothel, Picasso's vocabulary of pose, gesture and expression calls into question the academic methods and sources of his chief rival, Henri Matisse. Also, correspondences between the Demoiselles and photos from L'Etude Academique, a periodical used by artists, students, and voyeurs, sheds new light on the riddle of the medical student and the sailor depicted in Picasso's original sketch.

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