By 1920 Picasso had settled into taking two very different stylistic routes in his painting. The first was the pursuit of a traditionalist neo-classical ideal in his figure compositions, initiated by his interest in the precise line of Ingres's draughtsmanship and later influenced by the ripely sensual and volumetric aspects that he admired in the late figure paintings of Renoir. The second represented a continuation of "synthetic" cubism and was best suited to doing still-lives. The problems of rendering objects in space continued to intrigue the artist. While he had already heavily mined the stylistic possibilities within cubism, his efforts to reduce and simplify his forms promised yet more interesting developments along this line of experimentation, and seemed a path well worth investigating.
For example, in the present drawing and others in this series, Picasso introduced a dotted, thread-like line that appears to represent the approximation or tentativeness of contours. The line suggests that the objects depicted may not actually be present. Picasso delighted in these games of perceptual sleight-of-hand that exploited spatial ambiguities.
Moreover, the cubist still-lives and the neo-classical figure subjects are far more inter-related than a cursory visual comparison might initially suggest. In rendering the forms of the guitar and compotier set on the thick-legged table, all in flat and outlined shapes, Picasso is practically drawing a seated figure, with the compotier as its head, the guitar its folded arms, and the table the figure's lower body and legs. The present work and others in this series, done in Paris during the fall and early winter of 1920, are concurrent with Femme assis, autumn 1920 (Zervos, vol. 4, no. 175; coll. Musée Picasso, Paris), a figure painting fully rendered in Picasso's 'gigantic' manner. The massiveness of her forms owes much to an underlying cubist foundation, utilizing structural concepts that Picasso visualized in his cubist still-life drawings.