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Analysis of 'Les Demoiselles D'avignon' and 'Blue Poles'

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Artists have shocked and confronted audiences in pursuit of the ‘avant-garde’ in art movements such as Realism, Cubism, and Abstract Expressionism. Realists, abandoning traditional themes and practices; Cubists and their subject matter, positioning, composition, and primitivism; and Abstract Expressionists, abandoning conventional tools and methods of artmaking. Examples of this are, Edouard Manet with his Luncheon on the Grass, Pablo Picasso with his Les demoiselles D’avignon, and Jackson Pollock with his Blue Poles (Number 11) have each demonstrated their own methods in their pursuit of the ‘avant-garde’, shocking and confronting audiences while doing so.

As a Realist, Edouard Manet’s ‘Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe’, known as Luncheon on the Grass, conveys methods that display the abandonment of traditional themes and practices in the pursuit of the ‘avant-garde’, ultimately shocking and confronting audiences. Realists at the time had mainly depicted nude women as the ‘ideal woman’, mythological themes included, along with very articulate shading and shadow techniques. Luncheon on the Grass demonstrates how Realists had abandoned traditional themes by representing inspiration from an older, more traditional piece, along with what painted figures had been perceived as at the time, with high consideration of gender. Manet had aimed to extend and revaluate the possible subject for paintings. With a considerable amount of inspiration, Marcantonio Raimondi’s ‘Judgement of Paris Engraving’ depicts in the bottom right hand corner, three figures in similar appearance to those of Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass. This exhibits a reworking that has turned such a mythological, traditional scene into an artwork that, at the time had been considered vulgar, a scandal. Having a nude in a classical setting had been acceptable but having a nude in a contemporary setting was considered vulgar, and caused a public scandal, savaged by critics at the time. This had also provoked laughter at the lack of interaction between the figures. Having three figures, the two males clothed and the female figure nude has been depicted as objectifying. Adding to this, there had been a feminist theory in which the male gaze had been illustrated as a way of depicting women in the world as only for the pleasure of the male viewer. The female figure who is nude, and looking towards the audience, had been recognised as a well-known prostitute, Victorine Meurent. During the 1860s, wealthy men had been known to be associated with those type of women in society, however it had been blatantly tossed into the face of society, shocking and confronting audiences. All of the figures in this particular artwork have been flattened, using very little shading and shadows in general. This was considered a very coarse, raw, clumsy technique as it was painted so as to only allow the viewer to see the surface, not look into the scene and what was around the figures. Technological advances (such as the camera and collapsible paint tube) had also caused many artists at the time to revaluate their practices, making changes to their subjects, mediums, and practices. Furthermore, French Realist Edouard Manet’s ‘Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe’, while in pursuit of the ‘avant-garde’, was considered a work that had abandoned traditional themes and practices, and at the time was shocking and confronting to audiences.

Cubist Pablo Picasso has shocked and confronted audiences in his own pursuit of the ‘avant-garde’, as his cubist work ‘Les demoiselles D’avignon’ showcases primitivism, immoral subject matter, positioning of figures, and composition. Cubists at the time did not waver at their own representation of the ‘modern world’, brothels and prostitutes had been a common theme since realism, and had mainly seen reality from all angles, meshing an object into a network of context, abandoning perspective altogether. Primitivism is apparent in ‘Les demoiselles D’avignon’ as it is influenced by the art and artefacts of non-Western cultures. Originally, the beginning sketches and drawings had included two men and three women, this was later on changed and now incorporates primitive masks on two of the women in the far right of the work. Picasso’s work also expresses immoral subject matter, in the form of how the women are positioned, and the way in which this is perceived, with a battle-like behaviour. Distinct composition choices include the areas in which are painted to be 2-dimensional, as the scene has a lack of depth. This causes the figures to be more prominent than what is around them. ‘Les demoiselles D’avignon’ shows Primitivism through the African face masks over the two right-hand figures. Simplified and sharp-edged, the faces of these figures appear threatening and dangerous, amplified by the primitive masks, and adding to the stances that all of the women appear to have, with violence and power. Originally, the preliminary drawings for this work had the women as Iberian prostitutes, showing very strong Iberian features. As the work changed from loose sketches into cubism, these features lessoned. Still, with the three women on the left showcasing sharp, angular features, and the two women on the right showcasing primitive African masks, the whole piece looks as if it is a battleground, the Iberian prostitutes clashing with the masked ‘creatures’. The scene itself is presented to be very 2-dimensional, allowing the women to be seen clearly. The blue, white, and brown background looks as if it is shattered glass, adding to the effect of danger and violence. These could also be depicted as curtains that the women are emerging from and is confronting towards the audiences. Furthermore, Pablo Picasso’s ‘Les demoiselles D’avignon’ is a cubist work that, while in pursuit of the ‘avant-garde’, had been confronting and shocking towards audiences due to the intense primitivism, immoral subject matter, and distinct composition choices and, at the time was considered scandalous, distasteful, vulgar, and crude.

Jackson Pollock, as an Abstract Expressionist, has shocked and confronted audiences in his own pursuit of the ‘avant-garde’, due to his ‘Blue Poles’ artwork, showcasing how he had abandoned conventional tools and methods, as well as allow materials to ‘speak their own language’. Pollock had abandoned conventional tools and methods, choosing to put aside paint brushes, artist’s paint, and traditional composition, to then pour, dribble, fling, and pool house paint directly onto large canvases, placing them on the floor to enable ‘action painting’. He had exploited ‘accident’, while maintaining control, along with using the effects of gravity to build up layers of paint, using an ‘all-over’ composition of painting to then allow the materials to ‘speak their own language’. In ‘Blue Poles’ Pollock had used rags and brushes as well as poured paint all over the canvas. The layers of paint are all evenly distributed around the whole canvas, and he had integrated the ‘poles’ into the work through lacing them into the composition with layers of fine, dripped paint, mainly white, black, and blue. This had been done towards the end of completion. Layers of fine paint had been continuous throughout all of Pollock’s work however, the strong element of the vertical ‘poles’ differs to his other works. Jackson Pollock had mainly done his work in a farm house, stationed on the floor. This was so that he could interact with his work completely, as an ‘action painter’, which also meant that he could further his own methods, like flinging and dripping paint. He works in large scale, which then allows him to engage his whole body into his work, more concerned with how much genuineness is performed into the act. ‘Blue Poles’ shows how much authenticity Pollock tries to attain into his work, illustrating the vivid, shiny physicality of enamel, as well as puckering, marbling, puddling, and interlacing of paint. Furthermore, the Abstract Expressionist work ‘Blue Poles’ by Jackson Pollock exhibits how his abandonment of conventional tools and methods and the will to allow materials to ‘speak their own language’ in his pursuit of the ‘avant-garde’ was, at the time, shocking and confronting to audiences.

Therefore, Realists, Cubists, and Abstract Expressionists have all shocked and confronted audiences in their pursuit of the ‘avant-garde’. Realist Edouard Manet, with his work Luncheon on the Grass, has abandoned traditional themes and practices; Cubist Pablo Picasso, with his work Les demoiselles D’avignon, incorporating strange subject matter, positioning, composition, and primitivism; and Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollock, with his work Blue Poles, abandoning conventional tools and methods of artmaking. Ultimately leading to the shock and confrontation of audiences in their own pursuit of the ‘avant-garde’. 

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Analysis of ‘Les Demoiselles D’avignon’ and ‘Blue Poles’. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 29, 2022, from
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