The present composition is part of a long and varied series of still-lifes that Picasso painted in 1919-1920, in which the still-life elements are assembled on a pedestal table (guéridon) in front of a window. Although the germ of the motif may be found in the studies for the drop curtain that Picasso designed in May-July 1919 for the Ballet Russes production of Le Tricorne, the series as such did not begin until the late summer, when Picasso vacationed with his wife Olga Khoklova at Saint-Raphaël on the French Riviera. He continued to explore the theme back home on the rue La Boëtie in Paris throughout the fall and winter, when the present example was painted. Placing the still-life elements in front of a window was a new departure for Picasso; previously, his still-lifes had occupied closed rooms and were composed against walls and drapery. Brigitte Léal has explained, "The theme of the window itself belongs to a long tradition of pictorial theory--painting as metaphor for window, window as metaphor for painting. Window frame echoes painting frame; reflective glazing in either case allows interaction of images inside and out; while curtains suggest a theater stage, and so on. These references to the artifice of art allow a philosophic-aesthetic stand: 'windows' permit linkage of two antithetical worlds, linkage of reality and décor" (Picasso & Things, exh. cat., Cleveland Museum of Art, 1992, p. 32). The present painting is one of the rare examples from the series in which shutters are closed over the window, undermining its traditional pictorial function; only a glimpse of the ornate balcony grille against a patch of sky-blue ground at the left edge of the canvas hints at the existence of a view into depth.
The guéridon series proved to be exceptionally fertile ground for formal exploration, and within a few months of its inception at Saint-Raphaël, Picasso had produced dozens of variations on the theme in pencil, gouache, and oil, many of which were exhibited at Paul Rosenberg's gallery in October 1919. Léal has written, "There is no end to subsequent variations on this theme, but the number of such images hardly matters. What matters is the group as a whole; the group constitutes the work itself... By leading us into the spiraling labyrinth of images in his open window series, Picasso not only poses the problem of status of the image and autonomy of the sign but also takes a measure of his own activity at the time" (ibid., pp. 35-36). In some of the earliest examples from the group, the still-life is a complex construction of interlocking shapes, but the setting is indicated in a straightforward, illusionistic way, evoking the artist's exploration of a classicizing idiom in many of his figure paintings from this period. In other instances, including the present canvas, the still-life is rendered entirely in fragmented forms and flattened planes, continuing Picasso's cubist explorations of the previous decade. The focal point in the present composition is a guitar, a recurrent motif throughout Picasso's cubist oeuvre and a nostalgic reference to the artist's native Spain. The vertical stripes suggest the strings of the instrument, while the angled lines may refer to a sheet of music, a visual rhyming typical of Synthetic Cubism. The pedestal of the table is recognizable in light blue, and the tabletop is delineated by a passage of wood-grain pattern; the shutters are portrayed by a series of horizontal grey stripes, which the viewer reads as slats. Elizabeth Cowling has concluded, "Picasso was primarily concerned with formal arrangements--with the creation of balanced, although asymmetrical, compositions, ingenious combinations of rhyming shapes, and contrasts of tone and color and plain and patterned surfaces. In their poise, control, and subtlety, [these works] remind one of Chardin's modest kitchen still-lifes, in which a limited repertoire of everyday objects is shuffled and reshuffled to form a series of variations on the same melodic theme" (Picasso, Style and Meaning, London, 2002, pp. 381-382).