Spanish Painter, Illustrator, and Sculptor
Summary of Juan Gris
One of Gertrude Stein's favorite artists, and the only Cubist talented enough to make Picasso uncomfortable, Juan Gris built upon the foundations of early Cubism and steered the movement in new directions. A member of the tight-knit circle of avant-garde artists working in Paris, Gris adopted the radically fragmented picture spaces of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, imparting to his works a bold, graphic look. Gris's paintings are immediately distinguishable from theirs, informed by his background as an illustrator, with a slick, almost commercial appearance, and crisp design elements throughout.
- Whereas Picasso and Braque delighted in destroying the conventions of painting, Gris's chief aim was to please the eye. As the artist himself put it, 'I prefer the emotion that corrects the rule'. Despite his radical treatment of the picture space, his well-balanced compositions, saturated colors, and traditional subjects popularized the avant-garde movement.
- Like Picasso and Braque, he incorporated newsprint and advertisements into his work. Whereas they tended to snip these elements into smithereens, however, he leaves more of the original pieces of ads and newsprint intact, as if to preserve the integrity of the originals. In lifting popular culture into the realm of high art, he is an important forerunner of Dada and Pop artists, among them Marcel Duchamp, Stuart Davis, and Andy Warhol.
- He was among the visionaries (poets, choreographers, musicians and visual artists) who built pathways among the arts. His costumes for the Ballet Russes show his commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration, an idea that gathered momentum and became central to contemporary art.
Biography of Juan Gris
The man who would become Juan Gris, one of the leading figures in Cubist painting, was born José Victoriano Carmelo Carlos González-Pérez in Madrid in 1887. The thirteenth of fourteen children, he attended Madrid's Escuela de Artes y Manufacturas from 1902 to 1904, where he studied mathematics, physics, and mechanical drawing. Though he was a strong student, the rigidity of academic life did not appeal to him, and his natural ability in drawing encouraged him to shift his focus to the study of art.
Important Art by Juan Gris
Gris idolized Picasso. A clever tribute to his mentor, his portrait depicts Picasso (founder of Cubism) in the Cubist style. Palette at the ready, Picasso is literally larger than life (taking up most of the space on the canvas). Working primarily in cool hues of blue, gray, and brown, he fractures the sitter's face into a prism of planes and geometric shapes that resolve into the parallel lines in the background. All parts of this picture seem to be in motion. While he and his fellow practitioners produced many more chaotic images, elements of formal portraiture, such as the legibility of the sitter's features, symmetry of the pose, and high-collared jacket (as opposed to a painter's smock), indicate his respect for the subject. It is entirely in keeping with the Cubist mission, however, in its divergence from traditional representation and effort to capture the dynamism of modern life.
Around this time, Gris and other Cubists began incorporating collage elements, such as newspaper and wallpaper, into their paintings. Flowers represents a woman's marble-topped vanity table with a vase of roses, a coffee cup, and the morning paper. A tilting oval mirror reflects wallpaper printed with stylized Art Nouveau orchids. Newspaper and wallpaper (literal scraps of everyday life) force us to consider the subject through the lens of modernity. Once owned by the American writer Gertrude Stein, Flowers. Gris was particularly fond of rewarding close viewers with hidden messages. Upon close inspection, we glimpse a second coffee cup and pipe camouflaged by the table - evidence that the lady is not alone.
Think of this painting as the masculine compliment to Flowers. Here, a small bistro table with a checked tablecloth almost overflows with an assortment of objects: a bottle of red wine, bunch of grapes, coffee cups, beer bottle, a stout ceramic pot of preserves, coasters, and a French newspaper. Like Flowers, it too contains a hidden message, this time, in reference to his native Spain: a bull's head. The snout is the coffee cup toward the bottom of the canvas, the ear is the bottle of Bass ale to the right, and the "bull's eye" is the black-and-white coaster to the left. It is a poignant reminder that the artist's homeland remained on his mind, though he would never be able to return there. Flagrantly breaking the rules, and combining "low art" (design elements such as the beer bottle logo and newspaper typography) with "high art" (the traditional still life elements), Still Life with Checkered Tablecloth illustrates his brilliance in furthering the goal of Cubism: making something new out of the connections between life and art.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Juan Gris
- Juan Gris: His Life and WorkBy Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler
- Juan GrisBy Christopher Green
- Juan Gris Catalogue RaisonneBy Douglas Cooper, Alan Hyman, Elizabeth Snowden, Juan Gris
- Juan Gris (The Museum of Modern Art publication in reprint)By James T. Soby
- Juan Gris: 121 MasterpiecesBy Maria Tsaneva
- The Brevity of Juan GrisBy Dan Hofstadter / The New Criterion / February 1984
- Art View; Juan Gris: the Other CubistBy John Russell / The New York Times / October 23, 1983
- Early Cubist Source MaterialBy Katherine Borkowski / Metropolitan Museum / January 21, 2015
- The Life and Death of Juan GrisBy Gertrude Stein / 1927
- Leonard A. Lauder discussing Gris's Still Life with Checked Tablecloth.Metropolitan Museum of Art / MetCollects - Episode 10: Leonard A. Lauder on Juan Gris's Still Life with Checked Tablecloth
- Gallery Talk: Juan Gris' 'Nature morte a la nappe a carreaux'Jay Vincze, Head of Christie's Impressionist and Modern Art Department