It currently forms part of the collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Girl with a Mandolin is one of the first examples of what is known today as an Analytic Cubist painting. Picasso used a model who was sitting in front of him, directly facing him. This places the viewer in the position of the painter.
The model in this case is a naked female holding a mandolin. The viewer can only see the top part of her body, from the thighs to the head. Her head is turned to the left, which is of course the viewer's right.
This means the viewer sees a profile view of the lady's face. She is also looking down at her mandolin slightly, which she is holding across the front of her body, apparently playing it. Although observers have a profile view of her head, the rest of her body faces directly forward.
The colors in Girl with a Mandolin are shades of tan, light brown, olive green and yellow. They are all rather muted and seem very close to each other. There isn't a single bright color that stands out. All these factors combine to make the whole painting's surface seem harmonious and integrated.
While painting Girl with a Mandolin Picasso was looking directly at the model, analyzing her naked figure and breaking it down into numerous rectangles, cubes, squares and other geometric shapes. He then went ahead to arrange these different shapes to reveal various parts of her anatomy that would not have been possible to see in a single moment of time and from a single point in space.
This feature is of course what makes it an Analytic Cubist painting, i.e. it shows multiple points of view in the same painting simultaneously.
A Girl with Mandolin's background, behind the model, depicts nothing the viewer can easily recognize. It's as if she is surrounded by a random array of cubes, squares, rectangles and similar geometric patterns.
Since the painter has chosen to portray the model in the same way as the painting's background, it is not easy to distinguish the shapes which belong to her from the shapes that belong to the background. It as if her figure and the background have become a single surface.
Girl with a Mandolin is a perfect example of why it is often difficult, even for an experienced viewer, to view a Cubist painting and clearly distinguish the background from the figure.
In this case, although difficult, it is not impossible to make out the girl's figure because Picasso painted her in somewhat lighter hues than the background. These lighter tones make her body stand out slightly. It is also quite easy to distinguish the mandolin's pear-shaped body. It's oval lines stand out sharply against the many angles and straight lines of the other geometric shapes.
When the winter of 1909/1910 arrived, Picasso's painting 'language' had already reached a stage where it was difficult to decipher. He was firmly divesting his artwork of mere likeness. This, however, did not mean he was progressively eliminating the subject: although his paintings were becoming progressively abstract, they were not completely so.
In 1910 Picasso spent a summer holiday with Fernande Olivier in Cadaques, and this is where he painted Woman with Mandolin. After emerging from an Early Cubist stage which appears, at least partly, to be expressive, Picasso at that moment in time was moving towards Analytical Cubism. During this period he often adorned superficial ornament with essential value.
In this particular painting, the typical fragmentation of shapes is taken to nearly unrecognizable lengths. Only the mandolin can be easily identified in the lower section of the composition. The outlines of both the girl and its internal drawing have been reduced to their underlying core geometrical elements.
The choice of colors imbue the Girl with Mandolin with nearly facet-like elasticity.
In spite of the significant hurdles to interpretation which this painting presents and would have presented had it not been for the descriptive title, it is certainly not completely devoid of realism.
Picasso was reportedly worried, not about the imitative reproduction of a girl holding a mandolin, but about the subject's objective nature - i.e. for all Girl with a Mandolin's leanings towards formal decomposition, its evident preservation of plasticity.