Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Ladies of Avignon), 1907

The career of one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century was played out in the shadow of Eros – and of Thanatos. At the age of eight Picasso’s drawings already displayed a precocious interest in the female form, and in the days leading up to his death he was still working obsessively on sketches of the female sex. At the turn of the century the young Picasso created drawings and watercolours inspired by the bordellos of Barcelona which he frequented. These works mix desire and fascination, but also comedy and the grotesque, alongside the ever-present fear of disease. They would result, seven years later, in his masterpiece Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Ladies of Avignon) – from the crucial period starting in 1904 when Picasso moved to Paris, to its completion in the spring of 1907, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a depiction of five prostitutes, is regarded as one of the most important paintings in the history of modern art.

A number of erotic works dating from the late 1920s and early 1930s reflect his interest in Surrealism, which advocated the reconstruction of nature according to one’s imaginative fantasies. For Picasso, these fantasies were often of a sexual nature – ‘Why not the sex organs in place of the eyes, and the eyes between the legs?’ he once wondered – and the result is a series of hybrid and often playfully erotic creatures.

The erotic works produced during the last decades of Picasso’s life – a time when the artist enjoyed a celebrity unmatched in the annals of modern art – reflect an increasing awareness of his own mortality and the inevitable waning of his sexual powers. Similarly humorous in tone, but very different in source, are the group of ceramics with crudely painted images of aging excited satyrs in pursuit of fleeing nymphs, clearly intended as caricatures of erotic scenes on Greek vase painting.

The paintings shown here cover Picasso’s long career:
     Pipo, 1901
     Angel Fernandez de Soto avec une femme
          (Angel Fernandez de Soto with a Woman), 1902 
     Deux figures et un chat (Two Figures and a Cat), 1902
     Isidre Nonell avec une femme (Isidre Nonell with a Woman), 1902
     La femme aux bas verts (The Woman in the Green Stockings), 1902
     Le maquereau (The Mackerel), 1902
     Scenes erotiques (Erotic Scenes), 1902
     Environnement vaginal (Vaginal Environment), 1904
     Les amants (The Lovers), 1904
     Deux femmes sur un lit (Two Women on a Bed), 1905
     L’étreinte (The Embrace), 1905
     Salomé, 1905
     Deux nus (Two Nudes), 1906
     Femme se coiffant (Woman Arranging her Hair), 1906
     Le harem (The Harem), 1906
     Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (The Ladies of Avignon), 1907
     Femme en chemise assise dans un fauteuil
          (Woman in a Chemise Seated in an Armchair), 1913 
     La sieste (The Siesta), 1919 
     Le rapt (The Kidnapping), 1920
     Deux femmes courant sur la plage (Two Women Running on the Beach), 1922
     Homme nu regardant une femme endormie
          (Naked Man Looking at a Sleeping Woman), 1922
     Baigneuse (The Bather), 1927
     Joueurs de ballon sur la plage (Ball Players on the Beach), 1928
     Accouplement (Coupling), 1933
     Minotaure violant une femme (Minotaur Raping a Woman), 1933
     Scène bachique au Minotaure (Bacchanalian scene with Minotaur), 1933
     Femme nue dans un jardin (Naked Woman in a Garden), 1934
     Le triomphe de Pan (The Triumph of Pan), 1944
     Femme nue accroupie (Crouching Naked Woman), 1959
     Bethsabée (Bathsheba), 1960
     Fragment de corps de femme (Female Body Fragment), 1960
     Scène érotique (Erotic Scene), 1962
     Homme et femme nus (Nude Man and Woman), 1965
     La pisseuse (Pissing Girl), 1965 
     Sous les feux de la rampe – jeune fille et deux barbus-phallus
          (Under the Spotlight – Young Girl and Two Bearded Phalluses), 1966
     Homme et femme nue (Naked Man and Woman), 1967
     Nu couché (Reclining nude), 1967
     Nu sur fond jaune (Nude on a Yellow Background), 1967
     Sans titre (Untitled), 1967
     Femme nue debout et Amour (Standing Naked Woman and Love), 1968 
     Homme et femme nus (Naked Man and Woman), 1968 
     Nu couché (Reclining Nude), 1968
     Couple (Married Couple), 1969 
     Le baiser 1 (The Kiss 1), 1969
     Le baiser 2 (The Kiss 2), 1969
     Le baiser 3 (The Kiss 3), 1969
     Le peintre et son modèle (The Painter and his Model), 1969
     La fête de la patronne (Patron Saint’s Festival), 1970
     Nu (Nude), 1970
     Couple (Married Couple), 1971
     Homme et femme (Man and Woman), 1971
     Étreinte (Embrace), 1972