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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Neo-orientalism : ugly women and the Parisian avant-garde, 1905-1908 Kirk, Elizabeth Gail


The Neo-Orientalism of Matisse's The Blue Nude (Souvenir of Biskra), and Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, both of 1907, exists in the similarity of the extreme distortion of the female form and defines the different meanings attached to these "ugly" women relative to distinctive notions of erotic and exotic imagery. To understand Neo-Orientalism, that is, 19th century Orientalist concepts which were filtered through Primitivism in the 20th century, the racial, sexual and class antagonisms of the period, which not only influenced attitudes towards erotic and exotic imagery, but also defined and categorized humanity, must be considered in their historical context. My introduction is an investigation of current art historical scholarship which has linked the manipulation of form by Matisse and Picasso and shifting avant-garde practice in Paris in the years 1905 - 1908, when Cubism displaced Fauvism, to the concepts of Orientalism and Primitivism. The problem of the ideological content of images of women, which I undertake to address, arises from these studies which rely upon the assumed metaphysical fascination with the exotic or the intuitive, personal concern for erotic symbolism by the artists as a solution to meaning. The absence of a rich critical discourse surrounding the paintings encourages my approach to the problem of meaning whereby in Chapter One I examine images of women produced in Paris in the specific discourses of popular and official culture in 1906. These representations of the female are identified as ideological constructions which functioned in relation to the important and broader issues of the moment affecting the dominance of French culture: class struggle and neo-colonialism. In Chapter Two the "ugly" women of Matisse's The Blue Nude (Souvenir of Biskra) and Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon are analysed as intended avant-garde transformations of images of female prostitutes and compared with the Images of women In popular and official culture and with each other, In recognition of their function within the historical context of their production. In conclusion I suggest that the difference in meaning between these paintings by Matisse and Picasso was Ideological, operating within the context of class struggle and neo-colonialism, and defined by their distinctive conscious and unconscious use of Primitivism.

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