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AFC074 African Collection & Exhibit

Elongated carved wooden figure. The reason for the unusual elongation is that this figurine was used as a hair adornment for ritual dance; about 1850, 11" x 3". A similar figurine in Paris or Moscow may have been the influence in several of Marc Chagall's work and Pablo Picasso is known to have studied African masks and figurines, which provided him with the inspiration for what is now considered the first Cubist painting, Demoiselles d'Avignon, 1907.

Demoiselles d'Avignon -- Young Ladies of Avignon -- was not the original name Picasso gave his painting. He called it "The Brothel". The name was imposed by a French art critic much later on. Five nude female Barcelona prostitutes are portrayed in the monumentally-sized oil painting, with angular and disjointed body shapes and postures. Two are shown with very recognizable African masks over their faces. Primitivism and denial of perspective makes this painting a radical departure from what was then considered "traditional" European painting. The work is widely considered to be seminal in the early development of both Cubism and modern art, but is certainly derived from Braque's earlier works.

Demoiselles is heavily influenced by African tribal masks. Picasso often visited the Musée d'Ethnographie du Trocadéro, known today as Musée de l'Homme in the spring of 1907 where he saw and, according to Picasso, was quite unconsciously influenced by African and Tribal art several months before painting Demoiselles. Some critics argue that the painting was a reaction to Henri Matisse's Le bonheur de vivre and Blue Nude, which had direct influences from African tribal masks and figurines.

Picasso's first Cubist painting has a strong resemblance to Cézanne's earlier Les Grandes Baigneuses and to many of Braque's prior Cubist works, but art historians seem oblivious to this established fact.