Girl with Mandolin, 1910 by Pablo Picasso

By the winter of 1909/10 Picasso's pictorial language had already become increasingly hard to decipher. He was steadily divesting his paintings of mere likeness, not that this was synonymous with a progressive elimination of the subject: his paintings were becoming more abstract but not entirely so.

In 1910 Picasso and Fernande Olivier spent a summer vacation in Cadaques, and this was where Woman with Mandolin originated. Having emerged from an Early Cubist phase which seemed, in part, expressive, Picasso was now in the throes of Analytical Cubism, a period during which he invested surface ornament with intrinsic value. In this picture, the characteristic fragmentation of form is carried to almost unre-cognizable lengths. Only the mandolin is comparatively easy to identify in the lower reaches of the composition.' Both the outlines of the figure and its internal drawing have been broken down into interpenetrative geometrical elements. The coloration is dominated by brown tones paling to beige. Blue-grey accents, often directly juxtaposed with dark, structural lines, imbue the painting with facet-like plasticity.

Despite the considerable problems of interpretation which this picture presents and would present in even greater measure were it not for the title, Girl with Mandolin is by no means totally devoid of realism. Picasso was concerned, not with the mimetic reproduction of a woman holding a musical instrument, but with the objective nature of his subject - hence, for all the painting's tendencies toward formal dissolution, its unmistakable retention of plasticity.