Picasso’s Les Mademoiselles d’Avignon (1907). Image from the Museum of Modern Art.

When I think about girls in museums, in the literal sense at least, my art historian brain automatically sees the classic images of the Mona Lisa or the Venus de Milo. However, my rebellious mind reaches into the depths of Magritte and Picasso where girls are depicted in far stranger and more allegorical ways. Although we can all appreciate the artistry of da Vinci and other such greats, depictions of women in art are far more appealing to me if they stand out.

Within the walls of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) stands one example: Pablo Picasso’s Les Mademoiselles d’Avignon (1907) – a painting of five prostitutes from the brothel of Avinyó Street in Barcelona.

While this might seem like a strange representation of girls in museums, I am drawn to it and inspired by it because in 1916, when it first went on display, it was subject to controversy for, amongst other reasons, its portrayal of women of the night as unconventional beauties.

So the story goes, Picasso originally intended on including a male figure – a doctor purchasing the services of the ladies – but decided against it. For this I am eternally grateful. Without the male figure, the subject matter is subtle. So on first impressions you as the viewer don’t necessarily see five prostitutes, rather, you see five strong women comfortable in their nudity; women who may or may not have a story to tell.

The genius in this is that Picasso encourages his viewers to look beyond the nude and beyond conventional beauty. Picasso uses the angular motifs of Cubism to create nudes that contradict the curves of the traditional female. Alas this is the beauty (no pun intended) of the art of Cubism.

Perhaps this is why I love the painting so much. It celebrates unconventional beauty and breaks away from the stereotypical beauty, even promoting a healthy body image to an extent! Perhaps it’s because it stands out and is rebellious, or perhaps it’s because it was a trendsetter in its time and paved the way for modern art as we know it today?

Whatever the reasons, all I know is that this painting empowers me as a woman and reminds me that we as women are strong and powerful and have ownership over our own bodies, no matter how we are viewed by others and whether people see us as conventionally beautiful or not.

-Rebecca King
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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