In the winter of 1916, Lipchitz signed a contract with the dealer Léonce Rosenberg. The artist turned over his production in sculpture for the welcome sum of 300 francs a month, and thereby tasted the first financial security he had ever known. This arrangement also encouraged Lipchitz to interact with other progressive artists and writers affiliated with Rosenberg's Galerie L'Effort Moderne. He met Juan Gris in 1916 and in his memoirs Lipchitz wrote: "I remember many sessions at Gris's studio participated in by such people as the mathematician Princet, the poets Reverdy, Jacob and Huidobro, in which arguments raged continually" (My Life in Sculpture, New York, 1972, p. 39).
These exchanges encouraged Lipchitz to experiment in painting. He acknowledged only one finished oil painting (ibid., p. 50), but executed others in tempera and gouache, including the present work. In these works Lipchitz absorbed the lessons of the wartime cubist manner later known as "synthetic" cubism, which had been inaugurated by the papiers collés created by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. These developments were characterized by the layering of flat planes of local color, and an emerging classical sensibility.
The present composition shows a guitar and an abbreviated version of a clarinet, instruments that Picasso and Braque frequently employed in their cubist works. Likewise, Lipchitz also used the letters "JOU", standing for the newspaper Le Journal, and depicted a piece of sheet music. This composition is related to two stone reliefs of 1918: Still Life (Wilkinson, no. 75; coll. Sprengel Museum, Hanover) and Composition with Guitar (Wilkinson, no. 77; coll. Kunstmuseum, Basel). These gouaches aided Lipchitz in making the transition from standing sculpture in the round to the flattened format of the reliefs. The sculptor made use of ambiguities in the spatial relationships between object and ground, and between overlapping or interlocking planes. Lipchitz made a second group of reliefs in 1922-1923 (Wilkinson, nos. 144-147, 149-167) that also incorporated musical instruments.