'Una mela, una bottiglia, un volto, uomini in guerra o in pace, angeli nei cieli, estasi di Santi, massacri, dannati nell'inferno, crocefissioni o concerti, giornali, cinematografi, musei, strade, campagna, palazzi e camere chiuse, letti disfatti, oggetti abbandonati e impolverati. La pittura è la forma del nostro coesistere in ognuno di questi elementi o in tutti questi insieme... Non dunque partigiani delle forme e partigiani di un dettagliato raccontare. Il conflitto non è nei caffè o sui giornali, un conflitto di partiti, ma un conflitto dentro il quadro... Una crocefissione che sembri una natura morta e una natura morta che sembri una crocefissione: ciò è capitato a ogni vera pittura dai bizantini a Caravaggio, a Picasso' ('An apple, a bottle, a face, men in war or in peace, angels in the skies, ecstasies of Saints, massacres, people damned in hell, crucifixions or concerts, newspapers, cinema theatres, museums, streets, countrysides, palaces and brothels, undone beds, abandoned and dusty objects. Painting is the form of our coexistence in any of these elements or in any of them at once... [We are not, then] partisans of the form and partisans of a detailed narration. The conflict is not in cafés or on newspapers, a conflict of political parties, but it is a conflict within the painting... A crucifixion which looks like a still-life, looking like a crucifixion: this happened to every real painting from the Byzantines to Caravaggio, and Picasso') [R. Guttuso, 'Paura della pittura', in Prospettive, Rome, Jan. 1942].
La gabbia rosa belongs to the compelling series of still-lifes executed by Guttuso between 1940-41 (E. Crispolti, op. cit., nos. 9-24). These were pivotal years for the young artist, when he strengthened his rapport with the Roman anti-fascist intelligentia, whilst commuting between Rome and Ascoli Piceno, where he was serving as a lieutenant in the Italian 49th Regiment. Painted at the outbreak of the war, in a moment of collective and personal turbulence, his work of this period witnesses a new maturity and a more controlled complexity. Guttuso's colours have never been so saturated with light, as he prepared for the chromatic feast of his famous Crocifissione of 1940-41.
His palette pays homage to the Expressionists, mediated through the Italian Mannerists and Van Gogh. Van Gogh's powerful still lifes are a key reference in La gabbia rosa, both on the iconographical and stylistic level: Guttuso's objects - the chair, the table, the flask, and the cage - return obsessively in all the most intense works of 1940-41 (see fig. 1) and display the same tormented yet exuberant physical presence that one can find in his contemporary nudes, and the great social frescoes of the following years.