Distortions of Grande Odalisque and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

Some parallels lie between the works below, with the major themes being: nudity, brothels, colonialism, distortion, and space. See more below.

1200px-Jean_Auguste_Dominique_Ingres,_La_Grande_Odalisque,_1814 Les_Demoiselles_d'Avignon

Ingres’ painting, left, Grande Odalisque or Une Odalisque, caused controversial amongst the academy. He was breaking with neo-classicism and his mentor, David, by painting a nude who was human. (From the Renaissance on, nudes were painted only of mythological gods). Further, the nude depicts a prostitute in a oriental harem served up in accordance with French fantasy. The final break from neo-classicism was Ingres’s disregard of human anatomy since he purposefully elongated the nude’s torso, actually giving her five extra vertebrae (the National Institutes of Health actually measured this! It was previously thought to be two or three extra). People have also remarked on the cool expression of the nude and the emphasis on her flesh. Now we come to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso, right. Like Odalisque, who is crowded into her harem, these women are crowded into a brothel. And like her, their limbs have been distorted, marking Picasso’s jump into Cubism. Odalisque is sensual; they are sensual and carnal. Also notice the similar position with arm bent and the curtains in both works, which either are drawn apart to reveal a spectacle or which the object of the spectacle is pulling toward herself to cover up. I always thought of the Demoiseslles as standing against a background but this picture could also be a birds eye view, showing them lying on a bed with angular white sheets. Odalisque was an example of French fascination with Orientalism, looking at a conquered population. Les Demoiselles shifts from a conquered Middle East to a conquered Africa. Ingres uses symbols of the orient (fan, headdress), while Picasso uses African masks as symbols of the country, evoking their rituals, art, “the other”, and the domination of the other. Curiously, both images also superimpose an exotic sensuality (for Ingres, the orient, which is Middle East here; for Picasso, Africa and also Iberia since one of the nudes has an Iberian face), yet all with pale European skin, perhaps suggesting a dichotomy between these civilizations in terms of their identity and sexuality.

About kinneret

Hello, and welcome. I'm writing this blog under an alias. Why an alias? I started to write what may be described as an "American Gothic" novel (sort of Henry James/ Franz Kafka with violence) with some autobiographical details. ..when I started this blog I just decided to use the alias. This blog is about art and art history, but my interests also include literature, film analysis, psychology, forensic psychology, faerie tale analysis, cognitive therapy, cognitive linguistics, classical theater, World War II, and Russian and British history. My favorite writers include Kafka, the Brontes, and Philip K Dick. Thank you for reading this blog and I will happily reply to any comments.
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5 Responses to Distortions of Grande Odalisque and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon

  1. marblenecltr says:

    As long as we are commenting on the anatomy, the left leg of Odalisque seems not attached at the hip, and the right leg is unlike any I have seen in formation (perspective) and connection. One or two more aberrations, and one would think it was an image in a fun house mirror.

  2. marblenecltr says:

    We have come a long way in post-fig leaf development, but there is always a desire to lapse back into the pre-fig leaf age.

  3. I am very glad to see this post. Art History is not just important for understanding the developing nature of artwork, but is equally as fascinating in tracing the journey of what is usually called ‘progressive’ thinking (or liberalism, to some). When I had this slide of Ingre’s put in front of my eyes in art history class, it was the length of her arm which was touted as being distorted. Nothing was said about any other part of her body–so to learn some 35 years later that she has 5 ribs…..well, I guess I’m never too old, hahaha

    • kinneret says:

      That’s an interesting comment. I’m not sure though that we should equate political views to the changing way art has been viewed. It is true that there was something political in and of art aesthetic moving outside of academic art. However, there was only a cannon of academic art for a certain period of time before that. There are many different attitudes and doctrines on art and its various movements (which are now also swinging back to realism and hyperrealism) but I would not equate these with liberalism or any US politics.

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