Monday, September 21, 2009

Les demoiselles d'Avignon

Shame on me. I learnt only recently that the large oil painting of this name, painted in 1907 by Pablo Picasso, which portrays five nude ladies, two of them wearing seemingly african masks, has nothing to do with Avignon's beauties. The damsels were sex-workers in a brothel on carrer d'Avinyó, a red light district in Barcelona. The work - dubbed "le bordel d'Avignon", or simply "le bordel" by the painter- remains one of Picasso's most famous, and is considered to be the first Cubist work of art. Its first public exhibition after WW1, was a public outrage ( because of the painting technique, not of the subject, mind you) and the painter kept the canvas rolled in his atelier for some years. Bought (cheaply, at 35.000 francs) by couturier and collector Jacques Doucet on the promise that it would be donated to the Louvre Museum after his death, it was priced at 350.000 francs immediately after changing hands, wrote art historian Richardson. After Doucet death, it was sold by his widow mme Doucet to an art merchant in 1937, for financial reasons, alongside with major cubist paintings from Braque and Picasso and is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, since 1939.
Luckily, other paintings of Picasso, alongside with masterpieces of Cezanne, Modigliani, Vuillard, Sisley, Manet, Foujita, Derain... are however to be found in Avignon. The bulk of the collection of Jacques Doucet is hosted in a remarkable building, rue Laboureur, less than a hunded meters from our flat in rue Figuière.
The Musée Angladon is open to the public since 1996, and displays major works of french painters in a carefully preserved XVIIIth century setting, the former home of the museum founders Jean and Paulette Angladon-Dubrujeaud, heirs to the wife of famous Parisian collector, who fought trough their final years to constitute a Foundation ( wich is no small deed in the french legal system). Their generosity certainly match their uncle's, famous patron of the arts, and nonetheless a very shrewd buyer.