This screenprint by the British artist Patrick Caulfield depicts five women shown from behind in various poses against a colourful background. Four of the figures are standing and holding their arms above or behind their heads, while the fifth sits on the ground with her legs broadly opened. The women fill the composition, seeming cramped by the confines of its edges, an effect that is enhanced by Caulfield’s use of bold, block colours, consisting of a palette of pale peach for the women’s bodies that is contrasted with the dark and bright red, dark blue, black and white of their surroundings and outlines. The print is a reversal of Pablo Picasso’s well-known oil painting Les Demoiselles d’Avignon of 1907 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) – in Picasso’s version, the women are seen from the front, their nude, stylised bodies in full view.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon vues de derrière is a screenprint formed by the juxtaposition of printed surfaces in eight separate colours, which densely cover, with minimal overlap, the surface of the white, heavy-weight, machine-made wove paper onto which they are printed. As a result of the screenprinting process, the coloured areas are flat and uniform in texture and density of tone. The work was printed at Advanced Graphics London, where Caulfield regularly made prints, and the printer’s embossed stamp appears in the bottom right corner of the margin. Here Caulfield has also signed and dated the work, and a pencilled inscription indicates that this print is number four in an edition of sixty-five.
The print’s title, which broadly translates as ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon view from the rear’, makes overt reference to Picasso’s painting but also strikes a comic note. As the curator Clarrie Wallis has observed: ‘the reversal of this image is both a visual pun on the printing process, which reverses the original design, and a verbal pun on the French word “derrière”, which means rear end’ (Wallis 2013, p.90). Caulfield’s practice of making his own versions of existing paintings recurred throughout his career from his time as a student at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, when in his final year he painted Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi (after Delacroix) 1963 (Tate T03101), a version of French painter Eugène Delacroix’s (1798–1863) Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi 1827 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles). In a letter to the art historian Marco Livingstone, Caulfield stated of his Delacroix-inspired work that ‘my idea was not to just copy the painting but to make it even more positive than it was, to emphasise the image’ (quoted in Walker Art Gallery and Tate Gallery 1981, pp.15–16).
In this print, Caulfield has emphasised the boldness of Picasso’s painting by focusing on the strong, angular forms of the women’s bodies, placing their orange-pink skin against a robust sky-blue colour and stripping back the composition. While the women do not meet our gaze as they do in the original – one of the aspects of Picasso’s painting that made it extremely controversial when it was first revealed in 1907 – they are nevertheless depicted standing defiantly, albeit without apparent awareness of the viewer perceiving them from behind. In a further departure, the collection of fruit located prominently in the middle foreground of Picasso’s painting – the subject of much art historical scrutiny – is here blocked from view by the crouching figure. By making such adjustments, Caulfield calls close attention to the key formal aspects of Picasso’s painting, so that viewers familiar with it are given a heightened appreciation of the forcefulness of the women’s angular physiques and poses in the original. The device of appropriating imagery from existing visual sources is a central aspect of pop art, in relation to which Caulfield’s work developed from his time at the RCA onwards.
As well as the edition of screenprints of which this work is a part, Caulfield also made a version of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon vues de derrière in gouache on board in 2000 (Saatchi Collection, London) and in the same year he completed one in acrylic on canvas entitled Les Demoiselles d’Avignon Version 2. In an interview with the curator Bryan Robertson in 1999, Caulfield commented on the connection between his painting and his printmaking practice as follows:
I regard printmaking as a way of extending the kind of imagery that concerns me, because of its multiplication in editions. I don’t think of a print as very different to a painting, because I make a painting for each print in more or less detail.
(Caulfield in Hayward Gallery 1999, p.31.)
Patrick Caulfield: Paintings 1963–81, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and Tate Gallery, London 1981.
Patrick Caulfield, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1999.
Clarrie Wallis, Patrick Caulfield, London 2013, p.90.
Supported by Christie’s.