Picasso african influence | the Gle masks

The Gle mask and Picasso african influence .

Text: Manuela Tenreiro “PhD in History of Art at the School of Oriental and African Studies, I specialized in Arts and Cultures of the African Diaspora in 2008. Previously, I obtained a bachelor degree in visual arts and photography from San Francisco State University... “Read more

Online Course AFRICAN ART

Cover imageLes Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso, 1907 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) Source:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Les_Demoiselles_d%27Avignon.jpg

Historical context

After the mid-19th century, a new generation of European artists rejected traditional and classic aesthetics, searching for more abstract forms of representation.

Social transformations and political revolutions, particularly in France were a prelude to a break with the past which art reflected from the early impressionists on.

Paris became the cultural capital, a beacon to artists from all over Europe and the American continent.

And as the capital of a colonizing power, Paris was also the symbol of French political power for the world. A city of splendor where colonial loot was exhibited in museums, art galleries, private collections, art salons and scientific academies.

Exhibitions that would greatly influence modern art movements, particularly Fauvism and Cubism.

Around the same time, André Derain bought a mask from the Fang culture (Cameroons/Gabon) starting a collection of African art that inspired him to create a new artistic language.

Picasso african influence

Among the many artists and friends of Derain who had access to his collection was a young Pablo Picasso.

His interest and curiosity for African art was also fed by his constant visits to the Trocadero where he found Kongo sculptures and west African masks, such as the Dan masks, called Gle, and conceived as incarnations of spiritual beings called for the benefit of the community.

arte africana no cubismo mascara gle
Gle mask, Dan culture, 19th century, Liberia


Just as collectors knew nothing of the contexts in which African art was created, so were Derain, Picasso, and other modernists ignorant of African cultures or the social function of the objects they so admired.

Their interest was purely formalist.

African art offered the strategies of abstract representation they were looking for in order to create a new modernist visual language that broke with previous aesthetics. For Pablo Picasso that language was Cubism.

The influence of African masks on the face of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is often pointed out as the greatest example of this African aesthetic force that fascinated Picasso.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso, 1907 (Museum of Modern Art, New York)

Know the online course African Art

Rock Art

1. Blombos Cave: Humanity’s first art studio

2. San art in South Africa

3. The Pygmy Schematic Art Zone and the Sandawe ‘Island’

4. Nigerian Rock Gongs

5. When the Sahara was Green 

First Civilizations

1. The First Urban Centers of the Nile

2. The Formation of Egypt

3. Kingdom of Kush

4. Iron made Cultures of the Niger

5. The Expansion of Bantu people

Islam and Christianity

1.  Axum and Christian Ethiopia

2. Eastern Christianity in Núbia

3. The Expansion of Islam in North Africa 

4. Islam in the Swahili Coast

5. Catholic Kongo and the Portuguese

Africa in the Modern Era

1. West African Empires

2. Bantu Kingdoms and Cultures

3. Islamic Sultanates and the Kingdom of Ethiopia

4. From the Cabinet of Curiosities to the Natural History Museum

5. The Influence of African Art in Modern Art


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