Merging a certain austerity of forms with a subtle lyricism, Compotier, bouteille, guitar devant une fenêtre ouverte explores a theme that, in 1919, obsessively interested Picasso: the still life before an open balcony window. The motif had first surged in the artist’s work during the summer of that year. In late July, Picasso and Olga had returned to Paris from London and – probably forced by the suffocating heat of the city – resorted to spend the rest of the summer on the Côte-d’Azur. They thus settled at Saint-Raphël, where they would remain until September. It was there, in his hotel room with vista, that Picasso first discovered the lyrical charm and pictorial interest of a still life placed on a table in front of an open balcony window. Merging two pictorial genres, interior scene and still life, calling for drastic effects of light and uniting elements of profound melancholic spirit – the window, the sea, abandoned objects – the theme immediately sparked Picasso’s imagination, spurring a series of variations. The moment was cathartic: ‘The whole charge of Mediterranean man that Picasso carried inside him’, Josep Palau i Fabre explained, ‘and which had been bottled up during those years (either in Paris, in Biarritz or in London) now burst forth in a series of compositions based on the same subject, a table covered with scarcely identifiable household utensils in front of a wide open window, through which the blue of the sky, the blue of the sea, and the breeze charged with sea salt but, above all, with blue sunlight, flood the room’ (quote in Josep Palau i Fabre, Picasso : From the Ballets to Drama 1917-1926, Barcelona, 1999, p. 154).
Exploring a more muted combination of hues, Compotier, bouteille, guitar devant une fenêtre ouverte may have been executed after Picasso's return to Paris in the autumn, when the radiant blue of Southern France had become a memory, tinted by the reality of Paris’s Haussmannian greys. In Compotier, bouteille, guitar devant une fenêtre ouverte, the shift of environment gave birth to harmonies of subdued tones, creating a sense of crisp, wintery light, which is corresponded in form by a rigorous and ordered geometry. While Picasso had been in London, the art dealer Paul Rosenberg had suggested him to attempt various views of a same subject in different conditions of light, like Claude Monet had done, in the same city, almost two decades earlier. Picasso proudly ignored the dealer’s proposition, yet variations such as Compotier, bouteille, guitare devant une fenêtre ouverte resonate with Rosenberg’s idea, offering an urban, melancholic counterpart to the languid, sensuousness of the Mediterranean balconies. Indeed, that same year, Picasso’s still lives before a window would be exhibited by Rosenberg as a series, as part of an exhibition of the artist’s drawings and watercolours at his gallery. The present work must have particularly charmed the enthusiastic art dealer, as he acquired it for his personal collection, and it remained in his family for almost 90 years.