Picasso's African Period

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Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. The two figures on the right are the beginnings of Picasso's African period.

Picasso's African Period, which lasted from 1906 to 1909, was the period when Pablo Picasso painted in a style which was strongly influenced by African sculpture, particularly traditional African masks, art of ancient Egypt, Iberian sculpture, and Iberian schematic art. This proto-Cubist period following Picasso's Blue Period and Rose Period has also been called the Negro Period,[1] or Black Period.[2][3]

Context and period[edit]

This 19th-century Fang mask is similar in style to what Picasso encountered in Paris just prior to Les Demoiselles d'Avignon.

In the early 20th century, African artworks were being brought back to Paris museums in consequence of the expansion of the French empire into Sub-Saharan Africa. The press was abuzz with exaggerated stories of cannibalism and exotic tales about the African kingdom of Dahomey. The mistreatment of Africans in the Belgian Congo was exposed in Joseph Conrad's popular book Heart of Darkness. It was natural in this climate of African interest that Picasso would look towards African artworks as inspiration for some of his work; his interest was sparked by Henri Matisse who showed him a mask from the Dan people of Africa.[4]

In May or June 1907, Picasso experienced a "revelation" while viewing African art at the ethnographic museum at Palais du Trocadéro.[5] Picasso's discovery of African art influenced the style of his painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (begun in May 1907 and reworked in July of that year), especially in the treatment of the two figures on the right side of the composition.

Although Les Demoiselles is seen as a proto-cubist work, Picasso continued to develop a style derived from African, Egyptian and Iberian art before beginning the analytic cubism phase of his painting in 1910. Other works of Picasso's African Period include the Bust of a Woman (1907, in the National Gallery, Prague); Mother and Child (Summer 1907, in the Musée Picasso, Paris); Nude with Raised Arms (1907, in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid, Spain); and Three Women (Summer 1908, in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg).


In historical reflection, a few issues have been pointed out include questioning the origins of this genre of art for Picasso. Did this art arrive simply because of the nature of observation and visual abstraction or rather is it a question of cultural appropriation?[6]

Image gallery[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Howells 2003, p. 66.
  2. ^ Christopher Green, 2009, Cubism, MoMA, Grove Art Online, Oxford University Press
  3. ^ Douglas Cooper, The Cubist Epoch, London: Phaidon in association with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art & the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1970. ISBN 0-87587-041-4
  4. ^ Matisse may have purchased this piece from Emile Heymenn's shop of non-western artworks in Paris, see PabloPicasso.org.
  5. ^ Picasso, Rubin, and Fluegel 1980, p. 87.
  6. ^ Bentley, Kyle (2016-05-26). "Oswaldo Vigas". Art in America. Retrieved 2019-10-10.