How did African art affect Picasso work?

African art and Picasso are closely connected. We are sure that everyone in Nigeria has heard about this great Spanish sculptor, painter, and printmaker. In his career, there was a so-called African period. So, let us figure out how African art affected Picasso.

Picasso African art collection

How did Pablo Picasso start to deal with African art?

Picasso African art collection is very vast. Let us get to know how African art and Picasso are connected.

In May 1907, Picasso accidentally visited Ethnographic Museum of the Trocadero in Paris. It was there where a great artist saw traditional masks of the peoples of Oceania, Africa, and the Caribbean for the very first time. This extraordinary work impressed Picasso significantly.

Picasso African art

If we take this event as a starting point, we can put forward some hypotheses, which can shed light on the various stages of Picasso's creative work.

Therefore, in 1907 Picasso first encountered old African art Ethnographic Museum of the Trocadero. Primitive statues, idols, and masks embodied the powerful forces of nature, with which primitive people associated themselves. 

African masks

Picasso consistently put art above all. Therefore, his ideology coincided with a compelling promise, enshrined in the images of the important African art. Art never was a home decoration for ancient African people. It was magic, tamed incomprehensible and hostile spirits, which controlled the full of danger earthly life.

Picasso and African Art

Savages helped the great Spanish painter to understand African art. He started simplifying forms, making his characters look like stone or wooden idols. His characters` faces became a ritual mask.

African art

Art critics believe that the main thing that Picasso learned from African spirits exorcists was a fusion of characters with space, as a primitive man never separated himself from nature. African art by Picasso looks like clumsy reliefs, roughly hewn out of natural materials.

Which elements of tradition African art did Picasso use?

Critics also explain all elements of African art that passed through Picasso`s creative works by the magical attributes of African culture. Here is the list of such features:

Traditional masks in Africa by Picasso

  • Women. They symbolize fertility and the source of life, which can be the epitome of evil at certain times
  • Children. They play an important role in traditional African beliefs. Children are a symbol of truth and family.
  • Animals. Depending on the purpose, animals can embody either good or evil in the traditional religion of the peoples of Africa. They also often appear in Picasso`s paintings.

Pablo Picasso African art collection

In 1907, Pablo Picasso created his prominent oil painting titled “The Young Ladies of Avignon.” It took Picasso almost a year to create this masterpiece. It depicts work five nude female prostitutes from Barcelona.

The Young Ladies of Avignon

This painting became a vivid example of Picasso`s African style. The composition was repeatedly redrawn. Thus, women turned into a coarse statuette with savagely ugly faces of African gods. You can see it particularly in two figures on the right. The love to show the female body`s beauty was replaced by a radical distortion of the body architecture. The deformation of figures and schematic representation of faces were considered the act of misogyny.

Picasso “Dance of the Veils.”

In the following works of African period, Picasso had been experimenting with this method. The great artist tried to create the illusion of three-dimensional space on the two-meter canvas, populated by ugly creatures.

Picasso “Three figures under a tree.”

Art critics consider the second half of 1907 in Picasso`s creative career the birth of plenty of distorted characters, where the painter depicted horrible African masks instead of faces.

It is such pictures as:

  • “Swimming.”
  • “Dance of the Veils.”
  • “Three figures under a tree.”
  • “Three Women.”
  • “Head of a Woman.”
  • “Self-Portrait.”
  • “Head of a Man.”

Picasso "Three Women."


Traditional African art undoubtedly influenced the creative work of the prominent Spanish painter. The strength of the African conception of art, which Picasso brilliantly represented in his paintings, lies in the fact that it exists in connection with the attitude to everyday life. Preserving and strengthening his Spanish cultural identity, Pablo Picasso finally managed to assimilate African art in his work efficiently.   

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