Guitare was drawn in 1911-1912, pivotal years in both Picasso's career and personal life. The artist passed the summer of 1911 in Céret, a small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees, where the inhabitants spoke his native Catalan and he found the landscape unspoiled. Georges Braque joined him for the latter half of the summer and the two worked side by side continuing to evolve and perfect their experimentations in Cubism. Fernande Olivier, Picasso's then lover, joined the two artists, however the relationship between her and Picasso was already becoming strained.
Céret was full of musicians, and it is here that Picasso's interest in musical instruments was rejuvenated. In particular, his close friendship with the composer Déodat de Séverac brought him into the inner circle of musical talents in the village. Séverac scored most of his pieces for regional instruments, which reminded Picasso of the Catalan culture he held in such high regard. The guitar in particular would become an enduring motif for the next two years. In comparison to The Old Guitarist, the celebrated Blue period painting from 1903-1904 in which the guitar is a simple prop for a human subjects, instruments alone now become the singular and central focus of Picasso's works.
Picasso's summer in Céret was unexpectedly cut short by an article which appeared in Paris-Journal about the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, which had occurred earlier in the year. Although this did not immediately preoccupy the artist, the article, which was published anonymously, stated that the theft from the Louvre was a simple exercise to demonstrate the museum's lax security, and that the author had himself taken several early Iberian figures some years earlier. This sent Picasso into a panic, for he then realized that the writer was Géry Pieret, a friend of Guillaume Apollinaire, from whom Picasso had previously purchased two Iberian statuettes. The police investigated this lead thoroughly, perhaps because there were no other leads in the case. Despite the anonymous return of the Iberian artifacts, Apollinaire was arrested and detained for several days and Picasso had to testify in court. Both men would feel that their reputation suffered for years to follow as a result of this scandal.
L'affaire des statuettes dealt the final blow to Picasso's relationship with Fernande. She felt that he resented the fact that she had seen him at his most vulnerable and paranoid moments. She soon began an affair with Ubaldo Oppi, an Italian artist who had come to Paris with Gino Severini and other Futurists that October. Picasso lost little time in taking Marcelle Humbert, the demurely pretty mistress of Louis Marcoussis, who he would rechristen as Eva Gouel, as his new lover. Picasso began to encode his love for Eva in many pictures of this period, for instance surreptitiously placing the words ma jolie in another canvas. Such pictorial subterfuge would be repeated fifteen years later when Picasso met Marie-Thérèse Walter.
During this personally chaotic time, Picasso's art was undergoing a transformation. The "analytic" cubist style of the past years was evolving into "synthetic cubism." As John Richardson explains,
Analytic cubism permitted the two artists to take things apart: dissect them 'with the practiced and methodical hand of a great surgeon' (as Apollinaire said of Picasso)...Synthetic cubism, on the other hand, permitted Picasso and Braque to put things together again, to create images and objects in a revolutionary new way, out of whatever materials they chose (in A Life of Picasso, 1907-1917: The Painter of Modern Life, London, 1996, vol. 1, p. 106).
Guitare is a lucid and elegant example of the final stage of analytical cubism. The curving lines of the guitar are abruptly straightened, however two curves are left as vestiges. Charcoal fills the areas along the left side of the instrument and up the handle, providing only the slightest indication of the object's roundness through shadow. At the top of the composition three parallel check marks indicate the frets, while there is a sound hole and a suggestion of vertical strings in the left center.
Picasso would continue to deconstruct the guitar almost obsessively for the next year. The summer of 1912 was spent with Eva in Sorgues, a suburb outside Avignon. The couple originally returned to Céret, but fled upon news that Fernande was on her way to spend the summer there as well. In Sorgues the geometric, straight lines of Guitare give way to curved forms. In this sense the guitar becomes a woman, who can be embraced by a guitarist, coinciding with Picasso's final peace and happiness with Eva. A related sketchbook drawing is nearly identical to Guitare, yet here we see the beginning of the curved forms which emanate from the core structure (fig. 1). Over the course of the summer the forms become even more curved, and the guitars begin to expand outward. An oil painting from later that summer eloquently illustrates these changes (fig. 2). As Josep Palau i Fabre has noted:
The main characteristic...of some of the guitars painted or drawn in Sorgues is that they can be defined as guitars in expansion, as if their limits were marked more by their capacity to resonate than by their material outline. This is the eminently plastic solution of a Picasso who is himself in full expansion, of a Picasso who has achieved a happiness he could not fully enjoy in Céret but about which he can now sing in a full voice (in Picasso Cubism [1907-1917], New York, 1990, p. 268).
(fig. 1) Pablo Picasso, Guitare, 1912. Musée Picasso, Paris.
(fig. 2) Pablo Picasso, Guitare, 1912. Private collection.