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Cubistic Nudity

Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp are two artists, who influenced the contemporary art the most and essentially changed the idea of what art actually is. They often contradicted each other. Picasso was an artist and Duchamp was a mocker, who turned the concept of drawing into an entertaining puzzle, and who thought that any work of art is always an uncomplete object with an infinite number of possible interpretations. For Duchamp the principle of artistic selectivity was abolished, and for Picasso it remained in power. They worked during the same period of time and in the same country, but moved in completely different directions. Picasso`s “Les Demoiselles d`Avignon” and Duchamp`s “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” are both cubistic paintings that had huge impact on the 20th century art. Cubists essentially rejected the image of a man as an object of art in general, from the study of its visible appearance, the beauty of his body, as well as from the transfer of feelings, ideas, and understanding the content of the public life. The ideal of a "perfect man", as the rest of the world was destroyed because of the deformation and fragmentation of forms.

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The bodies of five women in Picasso`s "Les Demoiselles d`Avignon" are painted in the cubist style. In the summer of 1907 Picasso fell for the charm of African and Oceanian art. Enthusiasm for the art of the black continent was not accidental. In autumn of 1907, inParis, a major exhibition devoted to life and culture of the people of Africa was opened, which aroused great interest of the French. That non-European art has certainly influenced the manner of depiction of the “mademoiselle`s” faces. The plot of the painting was inspired by a brothel in Barcelona's quarter Barrio Gotico in Carrer d'Avigno street. Whereas, the “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” by Duchamp combines features of futurist and cubist movements. The artist was influenced by one of the picture series of the 1887, namely by Eadweard Muybridge`s “Woman Walking Downstairs” and Étienne-Jules Marey`s stop-motion photography.

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It seemed that the artist of the “Les Demoiselles d`Avignon” presented here apocalyptic creatures with sinister mask-like faces. They are almost devoid of sex, yet grown on the canvas as frightening wildlife creatures, fetishes of aggressive erotica, begotten by the new era. The frozen figures of the women are similar to idols. They are fascinating and require tacit deisis. Rapid twists and intersecting angles give the impression of expression, as if the picture was created by an impulse at a frenetic pace. In terms of plastic the artist's task became the representation of the volume form on the plane, its partition into geometric elements, as well as the search for the expressive deformation and grotesque. He is free to combine and "play" with the objects in the image, filling them with eerie aggression and powerful force. The “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” demonstrates a body in abstract movement. The parts merging into the woman`s body are figures of cylindrical and conical shapes, nested together, so that they can convey movement and rhythm of the frame. The dynamics of the shifting woman is emphasized by the motion lines (dark outlines), which limit the figure`s movements. Apart from the artwork`s title, the image on it does not give any clue of the “nude`s” sex, age, character, or individuality.

Picasso`s artistic language of “Les Demoiselles d`Avignon” is complex. The painting is characterized by the predominant ocher-pink tones (women's bodies) and a bluish background, dating back to the "pink" and "blue" period of the artist`s creativity. The palette of the “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” is rather monochrome, bright and warm: it ranges from black tones to yellow ocher. The colors of the moving figure are almost translucent, while the color of the staircase is very dark.

There is a strange impression as if the “Les Demoiselles d`Avignon” was painted by few different artists. Although the faces of women are turned to the spectator, their noses are turned sideways like "quarters of brie cheese", as if they are depicted in profile. The figure of the crouched woman is distorted and shows both the front and the back, which was a very extravagant idea at that time. As a result, the picture combines several points of view, and the viewer sees what the artist could see, while moving around the nudes. The distortion is also used in the “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” - the motion of the figure appears to be twisted counter-clockwise on the dark  staircase (from the upper left to the lower right corner), placed at the edges of the picture. Duchamp also distortes the artwork by painting it in monochromatic colors and simplifying the figure to essential forms. The technique of distortion is used in this painting, because the artist wanted to focus the viewer`s attention on the motion and not on the figure`s characteristics.

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Duchamp`s “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2” is a very controversial painting, where the painter mirrored nearly twenty diverse static positions of a woman. Almost the entire canvas is filled with the linear panels and fractured volumes. Picasso created mysterious and murky characters (“Les Demoiselles d`Avignon”), which overwhelm thoughts, feelings and instincts. Since then, critics began to speak about the "demonic" in the works of Picasso. Both paintings denied the organic integrity of the human body and its proportions, the pictures include  no subject, their language is unusual and new, but the manner of execution was a significant topic in the art of that time.


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