With its sense of order and reason, Guitare sur un tapis rouge reflects the new-found purity of form mark Picasso's Cubism of the early 1920s. For it was in this period that the jagged, sometimes hectic shapes and forms of his Cubism gave way to a flatter means of portraying his subject matter. There is something almost architectural and designed in the manner in which Guitare sur un tapis rouge is laid out, while the bold fields of colour reflect Picasso's increasing interest in harnessing the full vigour of his oils, letting them burn with contrasting intensity on the canvas.
This development of Picasso's Cubism went hand in hand with the increasing number of Classical works that he was producing during this period. More and more, Picasso was painting and drawing with a conspicuous draughtsmanship that owed much to photography as a source, while many of his works contained images of classical scenes and classical figures, wearing togas and shifts, even playing the pan pipes. Although this appears at first glance to be a style diametrically opposed to the avant-garde adaptation of his Cubist idiom, in fact all these strands complement each other, each being in its own way a reflection of the Rappel à l'ordre. This was a general movement that came in the wake of the chaos and horror of the First World War. As illustrated here (Figs. 2, 3 & 4), all the major pre-war Cubist painters - Braque, Gris and Léger - adopted this calm Cubist idiom.
Many artists and other thinkers sought ways of returning to order, turning to reason as a reaction to the insane slaughter of the previous decade. While the bucolic images in Picasso's Classical works invoked an idea of peace and tranquillity, his new form of Cubism appears filled with reason and mathematics. The geometry of the rectangles, circles and triangles that make up the objects and the carpet have a clear certainty, but it is a mark of Picasso's skill that this is not reduced to something cold and heartless. There is still a joy, an exuberance in this painting, and this in itself is a reflection of another aspect of the Rappel à l'ordre - those partaking of it no longer wished to stew in misery and torture, or to present such unsavoury subjects to their viewers. Instead, they aimed to please, to give people some form of visual entertainment and pleasure.
This sense of entertainment on canvas was not only due to the general spirit of the Rappel à l'ordre, but was also due to Picasso's own contentedness at the time of painting. Picasso was successful, renowned, and could now afford a glamourous lifestyle that saw him rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous on a daily basis. He holidayed in fashionable places with fashionable people, and was married to the beautiful ballet dancer Olga Koklova. Another aspect of his contentedness was due to the birth two years earlier of his son, Paulo, something that filled him with pride and satisfaction, as is reflected in the sheer number of times that Paulo featured in his art. This domestic satisfaction seems to be lyrically portrayed in Guitare sur un tapis rouge. There is a sense of the bohemian, with the guitar on a plush carpet, a pitcher near-by. The guitar was an instrument that was linked with many deep, happy and proud emotional connotations for Picasso, a Spaniard. This atmosphere of artistic decadence and Spanish joie de vivre appears in a sense at odds with the rigidity of the forms in the picture, and yet Picasso has managed to imbue the painting with a joyous lyricism. The sheer colours, as well as the whimsical hatching that makes up the texture of the carpet, burst exuberantly from the canvas. Despite the deliberate flatness of the forms, there is a great sense of life and even of movement in this still life.
It is no coincidence that at the end of the same year that Guitare sur un tapis rouge was painted, some of Picasso's pictures came to be shown in a group exhibition alongside the work of such artists as Léger, Gleizes and Ozenfant. Indeed, it may well have been at about this time, during Picasso's winter in Paris, that this picture was painted. The forms and their architectural feeling appear to echo the Purism being espoused by some of those artists at the time. They were reducing the world into a pictorial code of pure shapes, plains of colour. While Picasso has echoed this in Guitare sur un tapis rouge, there remains a conspicuous painterly quality to the work. He has avoided too much flatness, and has allowed the various textures to add a lightness and frivolity to the painting that Purism would have avoided. Even the subject matter, with the guitar, echoes the gentle lyricism of the painting. While it is wholly fitting to the concept of harmony so central to the Rappel à l'ordre, there is nonetheless a sense of musicality and happiness that would appear somehow discordant with some of the images created by Ozenfant, although Gleizes was heavily influenced by jazz in his art.
The sense of modernity and purity of Guitare sur un tapis rouge is reflected in its provenance as well as its content. One of the painting's early owners was Walter P. Chrysler, Jr.. Chrysler was not only a car magnate, but was one of the great American collectors of modern art in the first half of the Twentieth Century, gaining recognition from more conservative collections and collectors for such movements as Dada and Surrealism. Indeed, the formidable Chrysler Museum of Art was almost entirely founded with his collection as its base. Likewise, Chrysler helped to steer the Museum of Modern Art's collecting in the early days. In his youth, Chrysler had travelled extensively in Europe, and not least amongst the various luminaries of the arts that he encountered was Picasso himself. Guitare sur un tapis rouge's sense of modernity appears completely in keeping with its being owned by the director of one of the most modern motorcar manufacturers of the era.