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Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF MONA ACKERMAN
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Mandoline et portée de musique

Details
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Mandoline et portée de musique
signed and dated 'Picasso 23' (lower left)
oil and sand on canvas
38¼ x 51¼ in. (97 x 130 cm.)
Executed in 1923
Provenance
Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Paris.
Patrick C. Hill, Pecos, Texas (by 1936).
G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh (by 1955).
Galerie Beyeler, Basel.
Lillian and James H. Clark, Dallas (by 1967).
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.
Meshulam Riklis, New York (acquired from the above, February 1972).
By descent from the above to the late owner.
Literature
A.H. Barr, Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art, New York, 1946, p. 133 (illustrated; titled Musical Instrument).
C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Paris, 1952, vol. 5, no. 89 (illustrated, pl. 48).
The Picasso Project, ed., Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: Neoclassicism II, 1922-1924, San Francisco, 1996, p. 123, no. 23-047 (illustrated).
J. Palau i Fabre, Picasso: From the Ballets to Drama, 1917-1926, Cologne, 1999, pp. 399 and 518, no. 1431 (illustrated, p. 398; dated autumn 1923 and incorrectly listed as neither signed nor dated).
Exhibited
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Cubism and Abstract Art, March-April 1936, p. 221, no. 226 (illustrated, p. 98, fig. 87; titled Still Life).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Picasso: Forty Years of His Art, November 1939-January 1940, p. 118, no. 182 (illustrated; titled Musical Instruments).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Paintings from Private Collections, May-September 1955, p. 34, no. 117 (illustrated in situ, p. 22; titled Musical Instruments).
Kunsthaus Zurich, Thompson, Pittsburgh: Aus einer amerikanischen Privatsammlung, October-November 1960, no. 171 (illustrated in color).
Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf, Austellung Sammlung G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh/USA, December 1960-January 1961, no. 171 (illustrated in color; titled Stilleben mit Mandoline).
The Hague, Haages Gemeentemuseum, Collectie Thompson uit Pittsburgh, February-April 1961.
New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, One Hundred Paintings from the G. David Thompson Collection, May-August 1961 (illustrated in color; titled Still Life with Mandolin).
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Collezione G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh/USA, October-November 1961, no. 113 (illustrated in color).
Fort Worth Art Center Museum and Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Picasso: Two Concurrent Retrospective Exhibitions, February-March 1967, p. 95, no. 37 (illustrated, p. 49).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, 20th Century Masters, May-June 1994 (illustrated in color).
Sale Room Notice
Please note the additional exhibition information:
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Cubism and Abstract Art, March-April 1936, p. 221, no. 226 (illustrated, p. 98, fig. 87; titled Still Life).

Please note the amended provenance:
Galerie Paul Rosenberg, Paris.
Patrick C. Hill, Pecos, Texas (by 1936).
G. David Thompson, Pittsburgh (by 1955).
Galerie Beyeler, Basel.
Lillian and James H. Clark, Dallas (by 1967).
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.
Meshulam Riklis, New York (acquired from the above, February 1972).
By descent from the above to the late owner.

Brought to you by

Brooke Lampley
Brooke Lampley

Lot Essay

During the early 1920s, Picasso tirelessly explored the pictorial possibilities offered by the juxtaposition of two still-life elements, a stringed instrument (either a guitar or a mandolin) and a piece of tableware (most often a fruit-bowl or glass), placed on a sideboard, an ornate pedestal, or a simple wooden table. With their fragmented forms and flattened planes, these compositions represent a continuation of Picasso's cubist explorations of the previous decade. Elizabeth Cowling has written, "Most of Picasso's still-lifes of 1918-1924 belong to short-lived series involving subtle formal variations on a strictly limited theme. Their imagery seems secondary to their formal devices--a pretext for the variations explored throughout the series as a whole. These paintings are full of teasing ambiguities, which mitigate the effect of rationality and impersonality. Nevertheless, one senses that Picasso was primarily concerned with formal arrangements--with the creation of balanced, although asymmetrical, compositions, ingenious combinations of rhyming shapes, and contrasts of tone and color and plain and patterned surfaces. In their poise, control, and subtlety, they remind one of Chardin's modest kitchen still-lifes, in which a limited repertoire of everyday objects is shuffled and reshuffled to form a series of variations on the same melodic theme" (Picasso, Style and Meaning, London, 2002, pp. 379, 381-382).

The present still-life was painted during the first half of 1923 in the apartment on the fashionable rue La Boétie that Picasso shared with his wife, Olga Khokhlova, and their infant son, Paulo. In the center, dominating the composition, is a mandolin, distinguished by its elongated neck and bowl-shaped body. On the left is an object that is difficult to identify: the foot suggests a compotier, but the elaborately curved profile and flame-shaped opening may point instead to a decorative stand for the music score that lies on the table. The passage of modified fleur-de-lys motifs just above the mandolin subtly evokes the patterned wallpaper of an elegant domestic interior, while the horizontal incised lines in the background function as a shorthand emblem for wainscoting (compare fig. 1). Very similar striations, etched into the paint surface in parallel sets of four, are used as well to depict the strings of the instrument and the lines of the score, lending the composition a lightly syncopated energy that echoes the song of the mandolin. In a clever visual pun, the lines of the sheet music also suggest the wood graining of the tabletop on which the still-life elements are arranged.

The most striking feature of the painting is its unified, almost monochromatic palette of deep reds and rich browns, broken only by a fall of bright white light over the center of the composition. The overlapping objects are rendered with a spare line and very slight differentiations of hue: brick red for the background, chestnut brown for the tabletop and the underside of the mandolin, a tawnier hue for the upper surface of the instrument and the sheet music, a dark chocolate shade for the compotier (if that is indeed what it is). The deliberate absence of strong color contrasts produces a very flat and abstract space, lending the composition a mysterious floating quality (even the table appears to lack legs) that contrasts with the tactile immediacy of the sand-infused surface. Jean Sutherland Boggs has written about a group of related paintings (e.g. fig. 2), "Although having excluded the colors he was to indulge in so happily in these years, even leaving the compote empty, Picasso produced a work which is visually vibrant and intellectually of the sublimest simplicity... Any inferences of space must be produced in our imaginations by the layering of colors in relation to each other. As a result, we seem to float, disembodied, in looking at these paintings" (Picasso and Things, exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art, 1992, pp. 208 and 228).
Like the guitar, the mandolin is a recurrent motif throughout Picasso's work of the 1910s and 1920s. It appears in one of his most important cubist portraits, Fanny Tellier (Zervos, vol. 2, no. 235; fig. 3), a canvas that John Richardson asserts would change the course of cubism (A Life of Picasso, 1907-1917, New York, 1996, vol. II, p. 150), as well as in a major proto-cubist figure painting from 1909 (Zervos, vol. 2, no. 133; State Hermitage Museums, St. Petersburg) and the very first cubist composition in an oval format, Femme à la mandoline of 1910 (Zervos, vol. 2, no. 228). Notably, a photograph of Picasso's studio from the same period, possibly taken by the artist himself, depicts a long-necked mandolin in the center of an arrangement of still-life objects (see exh. cat., op. cit., Cleveland, 1992, p. 96). The mandolin also features in three of Picasso's largest and most complex still-lifes of the post-war period, painted at Juan-les-Pins during the summer of 1924 (Zervos, vol. 5, nos. 220, 224, and 228).

Picasso's interest in the mandolin as a motif for painting may well have been inspired by a very specific source: the art of Corot. In 1909, the year before Picasso painted Fanny Tellier, the sensation of the Salon d'Automne was a show of twenty-five of Corot's figure paintings, including several that depicted meditative young women holding mandolins (see fig. 4, with a brown and red palette closely comparable to that of the present canvas). Picasso was profoundly affected by these paintings, which had seldom been exhibited before then. Richardson has written, "According to Braque, these were a revelation to Picasso, Derain, and himself for their gravity and austerity, also for their studio settings. 'They are paintings about painting,' he said. Braque liked the way Corot's models held musical instruments but seldom played them, thereby establishing a silence: a silence, I remember him saying, as permeable as Corot's space... Thanks to Corot, Picasso and Braque saw how the presence of a stringed instrument could endow a figure painting with the stasis of a nature morte" (ibid., p. 149). So struck was Picasso by Corot's achievement that he gave the German collector Wilhelm Uhde the cubist portrait that he had just painted of him in exchange for a very modest canvas attributed to the French master (Zervos, vol. 2, no. 217; see E. Cowling, op. cit., p. 655, note 23).

During the wartime and post-war years, the period in which the present still-life was painted, Corot was widely celebrated in artistic circles as an exemplar of the great French tradition. Gris explicitly quoted Corot in a major cubist painting of 1916, Femme à la mandoline (après Corot) (Cooper, no. 197; Kunstmuseum, Basel), while Derain lauded the painter in 1921 as "one of the greatest geniuses of the Western world" (quoted in J. Richardson, A Life of Picasso, 1917-1932, New York, 2007, vol. III, p. 149). The series of drawings and paintings that Picasso made in 1917-1919 on the theme of the Italian peasant girl are indebted not only to popular prints and postcards that the artist brought back from his Italian journey, but also to the imagery of Corot, as is his Femme à la mandoline of 1925, which boasts the same delicately incised lines as the present canvas (Zervos, vol. 5, no. 442; fig. 5). Picasso even made a sketch during this period after Corot's Mademoiselle de Foudras (Robaut, no. 2133; Glasgow Museums), one of his rare line-for-line copies from the art of the past (Zervos, vol. 4, no. 8; Musée Picasso, Paris). In a letter dated February 1917, Jean Cocteau exclaimed, "Long live Corot! Picasso speaks only of this master, who touches us more deeply than all the Italians obsessed with grandeur" (quoted in E. Cowling, op. cit., p. 309).

Part of the appeal of both the mandolin and the guitar for Picasso (who, unlike Braque, had no particular love of music) was no doubt their well-established association with his Spanish homeland, which also explains their frequent appearance in the work of Juan Gris. For instance, a trompe l'oeil painting by Pedro de Acosta, which Picasso would have known from his youthful studies at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, depicts a mandolin and a guitar hanging side-by-side on a wood-plank wall (see J. Brown, ed., Picasso and the Spanish Tradition, New Haven, 1996, p. 80, fig. 69). The stringed instruments, however, also possessed palpable sexual connotations, which Picasso never shied away from exploiting. In the present painting, for example, the mandolin leans flirtatiously toward the compotier-like object beside it, sidling up close as though to initiate an intimate exchange; its neck is phallic in form, penetrating the white ovoid above. The feminine form of the compotier, with its suggestively flame-shaped opening, seems to return the affection: its upper part arches toward the instrument and its right side metamorphoses into a female profile, the mouth open as though whispering a secret or puckering up for a kiss. Richardson has written:
"The allegorical possibilities of musical instruments had intrigued Picasso ever since Arte Joven, the magazine that he and Soler had edited in Madrid, published Nicolás María López's essay "La Psicología de la guitarra." López likens a guitar to a woman: the passive instrument on which a man plays. The anthropomorphic rhymes and pictorial double entendres in his innumerable guitar compositions confirm that Picasso subscribed to these sentiments. Paradoxically, he also uses an ithyphallic guitar as an aggressively masculine symbol--sometimes indeed for himself--but not as often as he uses a curvaceous mandolin, with its suggestive sound hold, to stand for his mistress" (op. cit., 1996, p. 149).

By the time that he painted the present still-life, Picasso had been working alternately--and indeed, controversially--in two styles for several years. In addition to his continued explorations of the cubist idiom during the late teens and early 1920s, which usually took still-life as their subject, he also worked in a new, classicizing manner, especially in his figural compositions. This contrast was monumentalized at Fontainebleau during the summer of 1921, when Picasso simultaneously painted the cubist Trois musiciens and the classicized Trois femmes à la fontaine, each a veritable manifesto of its respective visual idiom (Zervos, vol. 4, nos. 322 and 331; both The Museum of Modern Art, New York). During winter and spring of 1923, the period of the present canvas, Picasso painted no fewer than thirty cubist still-lifes, including the monumental Cage d'oiseaux (Zervos, vol. 5, no. 84) and a long series of intimately scaled canvases that explore the pairing of an apple and a glass; at the very same time, he produced some of the most unabashedly classicist images of this career, including portraits of Olga in an elegant fur collar and of his friend Jacinto Salvadó in the costume of Harlequin (Zervos, vol. 5, nos. 17, 23, 29-30, and 38).

Picasso's two styles each attracted its own partisans. During the war years, cubism had repeatedly been attacked as a Germanic--and hence an anti-Gallic, even treasonous--art form. Following the Armistice, one group of critics, on the lookout for a new post-war style, argued that cubism had lost its novelty. The other side, including many major artists working in a cubist mode, interpreted Picasso's classicizing works as a repudiation of modernism and an outright betrayal of the avant-garde. Picasso himself, however, rejected the polarizing efforts of both camps, insisting that his two manners were both integral components of a single expressive pursuit, flip sides of the same coin. In a canvas that Picasso painted in 1920, which juxtaposes cubist still-lifes and classical figural studies, he indeed establishes an overt equivalence between his two artistic tendencies (Zervos, vol. 4, no. 226; fig. 6). Kenneth Silver has written:

"The interplay of stylistic polarities in a single work--or, as in the case of Three Women at the Spring and Three Musicians, in two obviously related works--testified to the artist's ability to transform himself like Proteus, and thereby to rise above the banal categories that ensnared less powerful artists. At the same time, this joining of the modern and the ancient was a brilliant way of bringing Cubism into the fold of tradition while, conversely, diminishing the conservative sting of neo-classicism... In making us concentrate on his artistic prowess, on his unique ability to be both the most traditional artist and the most gifted creator of new forms, Picasso removes himself from the group aspects of both Cubist and neo-classical aesthetics. He says not only that Cubism is more traditional than it had appeared to be before the war (and that traditional styles may be less retrograde than we had imagined) but, also, that his modernism and his atavism are personal choices... This is the Renaissance conception of a solitary, protean, overwhelming genius; Picasso in the 1920s becomes a modern Michelangelo" (Esprit de Corps: The Art of the Parisian Avant-Garde and the First World War, 1914-1925, Princeton, 1989, p. 316).


Picasso, circa 1922. Photograph by Man Ray. BARCODE: 28856221

(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Livre, compotier et mandoline, 1924. Staatsgalerie moderner Kunst, Munich. BARCODE : 28856269

(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Instruments de musique sur une table, 1926. Beyeler Collection, Basel. BARCODE : 28856252

(fig. 3) Pablo Picasso, Fille à la mandoline (Fanny Tellier), 1910. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. BARCODE: 28856283

(fig. 4) Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, L'Atelier de Corot, circa 1865-1866. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. BARCODE: 28856276

(fig. 5) Pablo Picasso, Femme à la mandoline, 1925. Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena. BARCODE: 28856245

(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Etudes, winter 1920. Musée Picasso, Paris. BARCODE: 28856238

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