José Gonzales was born in Spain in 1887. In 1906 he moves to Paris, where he calls himself Juan Gris. He thinks this name is more suitable for a career as a caricature artist, which is what he has in mind. In Paris he joins the group of artists that has formed around Picasso and becomes one of the fathers of Cubism. Gris engages in what he calls deductive painting. First he applies visual elements to the canvas such as line, form and colour. Then he determines which the figurative elements can be found in that pattern.
Like the other Cubists, Juan Gris has an outspoken preference for musical motifs. The Cubists are especially fascinated by the shape of musical instruments. Gris's favourite is the Spanish guitar, which occupies a significant position in this work as well. It is striking that Gris depicts the guitar with five instead of the usual six strings. The musical staff also has too few lines. Gris makes these choices very consciously in order to avoid a realistic, detailed rendering of reality.
Helene Kröller-Müller gives Juan Gris an important place in her collection. She purchases thirteen paintings and ten drawings from this artist. The first work that Helene Kröller-Müller buys from Gris in 1913, the 'Still life with paraffin lamp' from 1912, is also the first Cubist painting she's ever seen. It takes her completely by surprise. She sees in the things depicted 'objects of the earth, but wrested from the earth'.
Gris painted another Cubist still life on the back of this painting, also with a guitar and musical score. Because the stretcher is located on this side 'Guitare sur une table' is regarded as the front.