Etude (mandoline) signed 'Picasso' (lower right) graphite on paper 4 5/8 x 6 13/16in. (11.8 x 17.3cm) Drawn in 1925
PROVENANCE Galerie Simon, Paris. Rose Fried Gallery, New York. Acquired from the above by the present owners circa 1958.
LITERATURE C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, Oeuvres de 1923 à 1925, V, Paris, 1952, p. 165, no. 403 (illustrated). The Picasso Project (ed.), Picasso's Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings and Sculpture: Toward Surrealism, 1925-1929, San Francisco, 1996, p.37, no. 25-112 (illustrated).
Anne Umland has noted that Picasso did not like musical instruments particularly, and nor did he play one. Yet despite this distaste, instruments, and in particular the guitar which became a favorite cipher, are among his most regular subjects.
By the beginning of the 20th century the apparently faithful recording lens of photography made realist painting feel redundant to many artists. Searching for a new methodology Picasso and Georges Braque experimented with a means of translating what they saw into a unique and personal visual language. They combined what became the Cubist moment with a shift away from the usual subjects of traditional Salon paintings such as landscapes and elevated portraiture to simple still lifes redolent of daily life. By restricting the eye to a group of objects, Picasso and Braque embarked on a tightly focused dialogue together. These still lifes, with flourishes of words and newsprint and often reusing objects such as a stringed instrument, a glass, or a spoon, were fresh on Picasso's mind when, in 1924-25, he moved beyond the Neo-Classicism of the postwar 'rappel à l'ordre' and began to reinvent his Cubist style.
Christian Zervos records that Picasso drew the present work in February and early March 1925 as part of a series of some 21 small studies of stringed instruments (C. Zervos, op. cit., nos. 381-390, 402-412). As he returned repeatedly to the subject, certain elements shift and start to take on a life of their own. The strings of the mandolin begin to radiate from the central sound hole rather than lying neatly in parallel lines. The bridge becomes oriented along the top edge of the instrument as opposed to the lower edge and in time appears to morph into a set of knitting needles. The treatment of lines which stand for abbreviated elements of the instrument look almost like the lines of a stellar constellation. At some stage the composition dissolves into a bust. John Richardson offers some clues into Picasso's process with these works in his chapter dedicated to the summer of 1924 and the 'Still Lifes at La Vigie'. He notes that in essence Picasso is retracing his steps from his first experiments with the Cubist shorthand he had created a decade earlier, this second time perhaps even more lyrical in his exploration.
A related drawing, Three Bathers (Museé Picasso), of similar size to the present work and dated 23 July 1924, presents a few common elements. The identical pictorial elements of the still life is evident in both works, as is the sense of the mandolin morphing into another, stranger, object.
As the composition evolves through late February and early March the mandolin starts to adopt an even more anthropomorphic, and perhaps even threatening expression. This series of drawings gives a glimpse of the next phase of Picasso's ever-changing genius, with the composition presenting an inherent sense of playfulness in their manipulation of the object. This notion was explored increasingly in the mid 1920s and later as the artist began to explore surrealism more intently, and evolved the extraordinary sequence of near-metamorphic bathers.
The present drawing was formerly with Galerie Simon in Paris, linking it to the greatest early champion of Cubism, the legendary German-born dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. Kahnweiler opened his first gallery in Paris in 1907, and immediately saw the importance of the Cubist works of Picasso and Braque. He continued to support emerging artists such as Gris and van Dongen until 1914 when, as an enemy alien, he was forced into exile and his stock was confiscated. He returned to Paris in 1920 and opened Galerie Simon with his business partner André Simon, taking up where he had left off with the Parisian avant-garde in time to see a series of sales of his earlier collections appear at sale in a series of auctions at the Hôtel Drouot from 1921-23.
*Please note this lot is exempt from New York Sales Tax
*Included with this lot is the volume of Christian Zervos's catalogue of Picasso's oeuvre in which the present drawing appears: C. Zervos, Pablo Picasso, V, Oeuvres de 1923 à 1925, Paris, 1952.