History of Modern France

The Third French Republic 1870-1940. Part 5

Zoom lecture



16 June 2021

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Head of a Sleeping Woman, 1907

“Negro Art”:

Primitivism & the Paris Avant-garde



with Anne Catherine Abecassis

"If on a beautiful day at the beginning of this century Matisse had not stopped in front of an antique shop in Rue de Rennes to admire some statues of Negro art, one of the most important pictorial revolutions of the 20th century and of the history of painting might not have taken place. "


Orientalism and Japanese art had fascinated the 19th century. But at the dawn of the 20th, avant-garde artists turned to African and tribal arts, which they considered more authentic and sincere than traditional Western art. "Negro art" became a reference model and one of the major sources of inspiration for artistic renewal from 1905 to the 1930s.


“Primitivism,” as it was later labelled, gave birth to modern art. We will see how and in what way Fauvism (Matisse, Vlaminck, Derain, Braque), Cubism (Braque and Picasso), Dadaism and Surrealism, modern sculpture (Brancusi, Giacometti, Modigliani) were all profoundly affected by African art.




Modigliani, Head, c.1911–12

Tate Gallery London