Juan Gris, Spanish Cubist Painter

juan gris still life with a guitar
"Still Life with a Guitar" (1913). Corbis Historical / Getty Images

Juan Gris (1887-1927) was a Spanish painter who lived and worked in Paris, France, for most of his adult life. He was one of the most significant cubist artists. His work followed the development of the style through all of its stages.

Fast Facts: Juan Gris

  • Full Name: Jose Victoriano Gonzalez-Perez
  • Occupation: Painter
  • Style: Cubism
  • Born: March 23, 1887 in Madrid, Spain
  • Died: May 11, 1927 in Paris, France
  • Education: Madrid School of Arts and Sciences
  • Spouses: Lucie Belin, Charlotte (Josette) Herpin
  • Child: Georges Gonzalez-Gris
  • Selected Works: "Portrait of Pablo Picasso" (1912), "Still Life with Checkered Tablecloth" (1915), "Coffee Grinder" (1920)
  • Notable Quote: "You are lost the moment you know what the result will be."

Early Life and Career

Born in Madrid, Spain, Juan Gris studied engineering at the Madrid School of Arts and Sciences. He was an outstanding student, but his heart was not in academia. Instead, he chose to focus on the drawing skills that came naturally. In 1904, he began to study with the artist Jose Moreno Carbonero, a past instructor of Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso.

juan gris
Hulton Archive / Getty Images

After adopting the name Juan Gris in 1905, the artist moved to Paris, France. He would stay there for most of the rest of his life after having avoided Spanish military service. In Paris, he encountered some of the leading artists of the emerging avant-garde scene including Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, and Pablo Picasso, as well as American writer Gertrude Stein, who would become a collector of Gris' work. During the period, Gris contributed satirical drawings to a wide range of Parisian journals.

Cubist Painter

In 1911, Juan Gris began to seriously focus on his painting. His initial works reflect the emerging cubist style. Pablo Picasso led the early development of cubism along with French artist Georges Braque. Gris considered Picasso an important mentor, but Gertrude Stein wrote that "Juan Gris was the only person whom Picasso wished away."

juan gris portrait pablo picasso
"Portrait of Pablo Picasso" (1912). Corbis Historical / Getty Images

Gris exhibited at the Barcelona Exposicio d'Art Cubista in 1912, considered the first group exhibition of cubist artists. His early cubist works are in the style of analytical cubism pioneered by Picasso and Braque. The 1912 "Portrait of Picasso" is an example of this approach. However, within two years, he focused on synthetic cubism, which used collage techniques extensively. The 1915 "Still Life with Checkered Tablecloth" illustrates the change.

Crystal Cubism

The outbreak of World War I in 1914 disrupted the life and work of Juan Gris. Gertrude Stein provided him with financial assistance, and he spent time at Henri Matisse's studio in the south of France. In 1916, Gris signed a contract with French art dealer Leonce Rosenberg which helped solidify his financial future.

juan gris coffee grinder
"Coffee Grinder" (1920). Heritage Images / Getty Images

Juan Gris' simplification of the geometrical structure of his paintings in late 1916 is a distilled version of cubism. He also blurs the distinction between the background and the central object in the picture. This style has been called "crystal cubism." Many observers see the technique as the logical extension of developments in cubism.

The first major solo exhibition of the work of Juan Gris took place in Paris in 1919. He also participated in the final major exhibit of cubist painters at the Salon des Independents in Paris in 1920.

Later Career

In the months following the end of World War I in 1919, Juan Gris became ill from the lung disease pleurisy. He traveled to Bandol on the southeastern coast of France to recuperate. There, he met Russian ballet patron Serge Diaghilev, founder of the Ballets Russes. Juan Gris designed sets and costumes for the dance troupe from 1922 through 1924.

juan gris la liseuse
"La Liseuse" (1926). Heritage Images / Getty Images

More major international exhibitions followed from 1923 through 1925. During the period, Gris enjoyed the greatest fame that he would know during his lifetime. He delivered the lecture, "Des possibilites de la peinture" at the Sorbonne in 1924. It outlined his major aesthetic theories.

Unfortunately, Gris' health continued to decline. In 1925, he began to suffer from cardiac and kidney disease. Juan Gris died of kidney failure at age 40 in 1927.

Legacy

juan gris still life checkered tablecloth
"Still Life with Checkered Tablecloth" (1915). Metropolitan Museum of Art / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons 1.0

While Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque are given credit for first developing the cubist style, Juan Gris is one of the most distinctive artists who devoted his career to the development of the movement's theories. Artists ranging from Salvador Dali to Joseph Cornell acknowledged their debts to the innovations of Juan Gris. His use of brand logos and newspaper type anticipated the development of Pop Art a generation later.

Source

  • Green, Christopher. Juan Gris. Yale University Press, 1993.