Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Art History


Dr. Kathryn Brush


Pablo Picasso’s painting Les Demoiselles d ’Avignon (1907) achieved prominence as a hallmark of primitivism in twentieth-century art. While countless scholars have explored this work, no one has yet published a comprehensive survey of the mosaic of cultural contexts that underpinned Picasso’s conception of primitivism.

This thesis will explore the complex nature of the primitivist ideologies that saturated Picasso’s cultural experience, both in his early years as a developing artist in the Spanish province of Catalonia, and in Paris in the years leading up to his creation of Les Demoiselles. These environments had each been shaped by drastic cultural and artistic changes in the nineteenth century, after industrialization, urbanization, and socio­ political upheavals caused both Spanish and French citizens to become disenchanted with what they perceived as an over-mechanized and fragmented milieu. By the time Picasso created Les Demoiselles, he had been exposed to artists and scholars who thirsted for artforms that were “primitive” and authentic, free from the perceived constraints and social artifices of their current civilization. These thinkers believed that such artforms could be found by looking backward to the medieval era and outward to the “non-West.”

Although the subject of “non-Western” primitivism has typically illuminated Picasso’s conception of Les Demoiselles, this thesis will highlight the need to study this work within the context of Picasso’s formative years in both Catalonia and Paris, which saw a pronounced revival of interest in the Middle Ages.



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