Closely related toThe Mandolinist (1934, coll.Tate, London), one of Gertler's favourite paintings of the period, the present work belongs to a small series of monumental nudes painted in the mid-30s which suggest the strong influence of Picasso, in terms of the sturdy proportions, simplification of form, fluidity of contour and choice of musical prop.
By the early 1930s, when the true avant garde were congragating around the twin banners of abstraction and Surrealism, Gertler could no longer be regarded as a progressive force. Ever the outsider, Gertler's creative heart remained instead with the still life and the female nude and an approach rooted firmly in the Classical tradition - albeit with the subject matter pared down, the picture space flattened and the composition broadened to the exclusion of any extraneous detail. By simplifying and intensifying his earlier vision of the nude, Gertler brings to his later works a new sense of sonorous monumentality. As Richard Shone has commented, 'The Mediterranean unfurls its waves as airs of mandolin and guitar banish the intensity of domestic violin... the fair and ample mandolinist - Nude with Mandolin takes over, by sheer traditional strength'. (Richard Shone, 'Mark Gertler - the late years', Ben Uri exhibition catalogue, p.16).
Yet, as is so often the case with Gertler, the late nudes are defined by a certain dissonance that is entirely at odds with neo-Classicism and its traditional tenets of harmony and clarity. Into this serene and logical territory, Gertler introduces the palette knife and puts it to work on the ponderous proportions of his model, moulding and sculpting the surface layer by layer, so that Nude with the Mandolin becomes unrecognisable to her forbears. As Clive Bell later remarked of Gertler, ' if the Post-Impressionist exhibitions were the great liberating event in his life, the next most important was the discovery of the palette knife.' (The New Statesman and Nation, 24th May 1941) Far from showing Gertler settling into staid territory then, the nudes from this period reflect a smouldering of the rebel spirit upon which his earlier reputation had been built.
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