Picasso’s Rose Period was followed by an even more radical departure in style. From 1907 to 1909 Picasso’s art was influenced by his interest in so-called “primitive” arts, especially African Masks. This period, consequently, became known as the African Period. His paintings, typified by simplified, angular forms, were rendered in a muted palette of reds and browns.
Around this time, the French empire was expanding into Africa, and African artifacts were being brought back to Paris museums, exposing Picasso to a truly unique form of art. It explored emotional and psychological areas not seen in western art, which was regarded by the avant garde as subservient to the world of appearances. For them, the faculty of imagination, emotion and mystical experience was more important than that of mere sight. In African art, which possessed remarkable expressive power, they saw a response to those higher faculties.
Picasso’s most remarkable achievement from this period, the painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, came at the beginning of 1907 and is arguably the most influential painting of the twentieth century. Following this work, Picasso began painting in a style influenced by the two figures on the right side of the painting, the figures themselves inspired by African masks, with their striped patterns and oval forms.
In 1907 the painting was considered extremely daring. The influence of African art led to distortions and visual incongruities. For example, at the bottom right of the picture, the figure’s head is turned in a way which is anatomically impossible. Surprisingly, even Picasso’s fellow painters, stalwarts of the avant garde, reacted negatively to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Henri Matisse is alleged to have told Picasso that he was trying to ridicule the modern movement.