Georges Braque

Woman with Mandolin


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Georges Braque 1882–1963
Original title
La Mandoline
Lithograph on paper
Image: 245 × 170 mm
Transferred from the Library 1991

Catalogue entry

Georges Braque 1882-1963

Woman with Mandolin 1945
La mandoline


Lithograph 245 x 170 (9 5/8 x 6¾) on cream Vélin d’Arches paper 365 x 282 (14 3/8 x 11); printed by Mourlot Frères, Paris, and published by Fernard Mourlot, Paris, as frontispiece in Braque, Paris 1945 in an edition of 225 with ten de luxe prints and 4 artist’s proofs

Inscribed ‘G Braque’ in pencil b.r. below image, and ‘174/225’ in pencil b.l. below image

Transferred from the Tate Gallery Library May 1991

Fernand Mourlot, with preface by Francis Ponge, Braque lithographe, Monte Carlo 1963, no.5, p.24, col. repr. (different impression), as ‘La Femme à la mandoline’
Fernand Mourlot, Souvenirs et portraits d’artistes, Paris 1973, pp.87-93, as ‘Jeune fille à mandoline’
Fernand Mourlot, Gravés dans ma mémoire: Cinquante ans de lithographie, Paris 1979, pp.118-20
Dora Vallier, Braque: Oeuvre gravé. Catalogue raisonné, Paris 1982, no.27, p.69, repr. (different impression), as ‘La Femme à la mandoline’

This lithograph, printed in nine colours (brown, buff, yellow, orange, white, blue, green, purple and black) was produced in an edition of 225, with, in addition, ten separate prints numbered I to X, and four proofs on paper of different dimensions. It was made as a frontispiece, entitled ‘La mandoline’, for the unbound, luxury volume, Braque, published by Mourlot Frères, Paris, in February 1945, which featured high quality colour reproductions of Braque’s recent works. Braque also designed the cover of this book, which included a series of aphoristic statements on art and life taken from the artist’s notebooks and entitled ‘Réflexions’, as well as an essay by the writer Jean Paulhan, ‘Braque le patron’. This publication is often known, mistakenly, by the title of Paulhan’s essay; it should not be confused, however, with the volume Braque le patron, published in 1946, in the series ‘Les Grands Peintres par leurs amis’, by Editions des Trois Collines. The latter reprints Paulhan’s essay, but lacks the collection of Braque’s statements and has a different selection of illustrations, reproduced in duotone.

The subject of the lithograph, a woman holding a mandolin, was a favourite of Braque’s. Musical instruments had been a leitmotif of Braque’s work from as early as 1908, and women with mandolins first figured in paintings of 1910. As Sophie Bowness writes in her essay ‘Braque and Music’,[1] Braque was a proficient musician, and owned a number of musical instruments, some of them quite rare. In a photograph of his studio in 1911, for example, he is shown playing a concertina, with a guitar, violin, bandurria and African harp on the table and wall behind him.[2] Braque also owned a mandolin, an instrument associated with Italian folk music, made popular towards the end of the nineteenth century. Sophie Bowness notes:

The mandolin was flourishing in France when Picasso and Braque introduced their figures cradling or playing mandolins and other instruments in 1909 and 1910 respectively. It had both a place in classical music and a large popular following. On one level, the woman with a mandolin was a popular subject, and one with which Braque and Picasso were familiar; from Céret in 1911, Picasso sent Kahnweiler a postcard of just such a sentimental image. However, there were also important counterparts in the painting of Corot, a life-long and sustaining influence on Braque.[3]

The work of Corot, which had been somewhat neglected hitherto, was celebrated in an exhibition of twenty-four of his figure paintings at the Salon d’Automne in 1909. From 1910 both Braque and Picasso began to explore the subject of women holding musical instruments, so closely associated with the work of the nineteenth-century master; and Juan Gris expressed his admiration in Woman with a Mandolin, after Corot 1916 (Kunstmuseum, Basle). In the post-war period, Corot’s reputation rose even higher, and his work was admired by both Cubist and Purist artists; the Purist periodical L’Esprit nouveau included articles on Corot in May and June 1921. In 1922-3 Braque showed his love of Corot’s work in a small oil entitled Woman with a Mandolin, Free Study after Corot, 1922-3 (Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris).[4] On the back of the canvas Braque noted that the painting was a ‘free study after Corot’, and wrote his initials, in red capitals, above Corot’s name. Elizabeth Cowling writes that this work, bequeathed by Braque to the French national collection, had a ‘special place in his affections because it states so unequivocally his sense of profound affinity with Corot, and hence with the French tradition’.[5] She continues: ‘Corot’s style and the lyrical, tranquil, “musical” quality of his work mattered as much to Braque as his subject matter: the restrained tonal colour, the dense, impasted surfaces, and the beautifully poised and meditated compositions all find an equivalent in Braque’s later work’.

Braque’s sense of an affinity with Corot remained strong throughout the interwar years. In 1930 he hung an exhibition of Corot paintings at the gallery of his dealer Paul Rosenberg;[6] and, following a major Corot retrospective at the Orangerie in Paris in 1936, Braque executed a number of important works with women seated at an easel in a studio or playing musical instruments, themes associated with Corot’s works of the late 1860s and 1870s.

The subject of Woman with Mandolin may have been inspired by particular Corot paintings that Braque especially admired. A photograph of Braque’s Paris studio, taken in 1957 by the photographer Robert Doisneau, shows that Braque had pinned to a door two large photographic reproductions of Corot paintings.[7] These were of Portrait of Christine Nilsson 1874 (Museu de Arte de São Paulo), representing a woman holding a mandolin, and the upper portion of Agostina 1866 (National Gallery of Art, Washington), a portrait of a standing figure. It is not known when Braque acquired these large photographs, but he would surely have known the images from books, if nowhere else, at the time he executed the lithograph; and it is perhaps not coincidental that the subject of Woman with Mandolin recalls Corot’s Portrait of Christine Nilsson, while the pose of the figure is close to that of Agostina. It is even possible that the distinctive lozenge-shapes in the background of Woman with Mandolin are distant echoes of the cube-like houses in the background in Agostina, or of the rectilinear canvases surrounding the mandolinists in Corot’s ‘studio’ paintings of the late 1860s. More generally, the curious indistinctness of the mandolin, and the unexplained marks to the right of it, suggestive of flowing liquid, creates the suspicion that the musical instrument in Woman with Mandolin is also part jug, and is meant to be read as a memory-image of Corot paintings depicting women holding round-necked pitchers, such as, for example, Gypsy Girl at the Fountain c.1865-70 (Philadelphia Museum of Art).[8]

The image of Woman with Mandolin is nearly identical to that of a small oil on panel executed by Braque, entitled Woman with Guitar 1943,[9] and the lithograph may be assumed perhaps to be a copy of the painting. The reference to ‘guitar’ in the painting’s title seems incorrect as the instrument appears too small. The lozenge shapes surrounding the figure are characteristic of a small group of paintings executed in 1943. Before this Braque typically used rectangles, either windows or picture frames, to structure the backgrounds of his still lifes; but, for a brief period in 1943, he explored the decorative possibilities of these lozenge shapes, which were painted in two contrasting colours, often with thick impasto – a painterly effect that could not be conveyed in the lithograph.

Woman with Mandolin was the last of Braque’s works to feature the subject of a woman holding a mandolin, and it is possible that he felt he had exhausted this theme. In selecting this Corot-inspired subject for the frontispiece of the 1945 monograph, he may have wished, however, to signal once more his abiding sense of identification with Corot and the French tradition, even though he was not to explore this subject further.

The fullest account of the genesis of the volume Braque is found in Souvenirs et portraits d’artistes (1973) by the master printer Fernand Mourlot, who, in this instance, acted also as publisher. Mourlot had first met Braque in the late 1930s when commissioned by the art magazine Verve to make a lithographic reproduction of a Braque painting, and, sharing the latter’s passion for boxing as well as art, he quickly became a friend of the artist. It was Mourlot who conceived the idea of a monograph on Braque, with high quality colour reproductions of recent works. Though it is not entirely clear from Mourlot’s text, it is likely that he first envisaged this publication as early as 1940, but found it difficult to make progress with it for lack of money and supplies. Certainly, Jean Paulhan had begun writing his essay by 1942: an early version of the text, later entitled ‘Braque le patron’, appeared in Comoedia, Paris, 31 October 1942.[10] It seems, however, that Braque was not actively involved in making the lithograph and supervising the quality of the reproductions until around 1943. Mourlot writes:

This was only the fourth time that the artist tackled lithography, his last attempt being ten years earlier with the ‘peintre-graveur’ Berdon.

Braque let himself be taken up by this medium, discovering its potential, and this encouraged him to continue with it. This was the beginning of an important and remarkable graphic oeuvre.

Around 1943, he would come to our studio on Rue de Chabrol. There was very little traffic then. Our friend would mount his bicycle at Rue du Douanier [where Braque had his home and studio], and cross Paris from south to north. ...He would work, correct the proofs of his book, and then go off again on his healthy promenade.

The making of this book took more than three years. Half the time the electricity was cut off, and we lacked many of the products necessary for lithography. Nevertheless, the result was excellent, and Braque confided to me, ‘I was unable to paint for a week after seeing your images’.[11]

Similar details of the making of the volume can be found in Fernand Mourlot’s The Original Posters (Paris, Monte Carlo and London 1959, p.13) as well as in his Braque lithographe and Gravés dans ma mémoire.[12] In the latter Mourlot mentioned that Braque drew Woman with Mandolin on stone rather than on transfer paper.

In the text quoted above, Mourlot said that Woman with Mandolin was the fourth lithograph ever produced by Braque. However, he himself had listed it as the fifth in his earlier catalogue of Braque lithographs,[13] after Phaeton, which was printed by Mourlot himself but published by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, also in 1945. This apparent discrepancy is explained if, as seems likely, Braque began work on Woman with Mandolin before working on Phaeton, and if the publication of the book Braque (on 13 February 1945) occurred after the editioning of the Kahnweiler print.

Jennifer Mundy
November 1993

[1] Sophie Bowness, ‘Braque and Music’, in Braque: Still Lifes and Interiors, exh. cat., South Bank tour, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Sept.-Oct. 1990, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Oct.-Dec. 1990, pp.56-7.
[2] Reproduced ibid., p.60.
[3] Ibid., p.63.
[4] Reproduced in On Classic Ground: Picasso, Léger, de Chirico and the New Classicism 1910-1930, exh. cat., Tate Gallery, London, June-Sept 1990, p.47, in colour.
[5] Ibid., p.47.
[6] See Bowness, pp.63-4.
[7] Reproduced in Bernard Zurcher, Georges Braque: Life and Work, trans. Simon Nye, New York 1988, p.214.
[8] Reproduced in Jean Leymarie, Corot, trans. Stuart Gilbert, London 1979, p.130.
[9] Reproduced in Maeght Editeur, Catalogue de l’oeuvre de Georges Braque: Peintures 1942-1947, Paris 1960, no.35.
[10] See Jean Paulhan à travers ses peintres, exh. cat., Grand Palais, Paris, Feb.–April 1974, pp.152-4; for letters, unfortunately undated, between Paulhan and Braque relating to this essay, see ibid., pp.73-6.
[11] Fernand Mourlot, Souvenirs et portraits d’artistes, Paris 1973, pp.92-3.
[12] Fernand Mourlot, The Original Posters, Paris, Monte Carlo and London 1959, p.13; Mourlot, Braque lithographe, Monte Carlo 1963 and Mourlot, Gravés dans ma mémoire: Cinquante ans de lithographie, Paris 1979.
[13] Mourlot 1963

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