After returning from Gosol in the autumn of 1906, Picasso made a profound change to the nature and iconography of his work. It was during this period in the winter of 1906/07 that the painter dramatically shifted his attention away from the narrative images of saltimbanques and circus performers to what was to become one of the major works of art of this or any century. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (Z. 2*/18) was a monumental canvas that was more than a year in its evolution. The present gouache is one of many preparatory studies in which the positions of the various nudes were worked upon (see figs. 1 and 2).
The figure in the background facing out towards the viewer appears in a number of these studies and is incorporated into sketches for the final work (see Zervos vol. 2* no.s 19/20). In these drawings and gouaches she appears seated, second from the left as one of five nude women. As the composition of Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon developed, so Picasso gradually changed the pose of this seated figure. In the final painting she appears still second from the left, no longer seated but standing, the legs only loosely crossed.
The figure in the foreground with her back to the viewer also underwent many transformations before the final version. Originally seated on a high stool and looking into the painting, she gradually became increasingly squat in her position and eventually turned her head to look dramatically out of the canvas.
There are many comparable studies to the present work although few on such a large scale and so richly rose in colour. In spite of the profound change in the direction of his art which occurred after his return from Spain, Picasso was still strongly inspired by the colours of his 'rose period' as well as by the rich red ochre earth of the soil of Gosol which he had recently visited.