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Juan Gris

José Victoriano González-Pére

Juan Gris is recognized along with Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Fernand Léger as one of the four major figures in Cubism, the avant-garde 20th-century art movement that revolutionized European painting and sculpture. Gris was born in 1887 in Madrid, where he later studied engineering from 1902 to 1904. Gradually, he started to shift his attention to drawing and began creating illustrations for local periodicals. In 1906, Gris moved to Paris, to the Montmartre neighborhood, where he met Pablo Picasso, who introduced him to the leading avant-garde artists, poets, and critics of the time: George Braque, Guillaume Apollinaire, Gertrude Stein, Max Jacob, and Pierre Reverdy. Gris worked as a graphic artist, creating drawings for political and satirical magazines. Influenced by his environment, he started to pursue painting seriously in 1911. He made his artistic debut in the 1912 Salon of Independent Artists with The Portrait of Pablo Picasso (1912), a painting that is considered one of the finest examples of Cubist portraiture.

In 1913, under the influence of Picasso and Braque, Gris began to experiment with collage and, more specifically, papier collé (cut and pasted paper). Through these artistic experiments, Gris contributed to the development of Synthetic Cubism – a later phase of Cubism that emphasized the flat quality of the image. Gris’s style was characterized by the structured geometric compositions that presented fragmented objects and overlapping planes. This style was encompassed in paintings like Still Life before an Open Window, Place Ravignan (1915), and Newspaper and Fruit Dish (1916). In comparison to Braque and Picasso, Gris had a more theoretical approach that resulted in more austere and organized compositions. From 1916 onward, he turned his attention to painting figures, creating more distilled compositions with more simplified geometric structures, like Portrait of Madame Josette Gris (1916) and Seated Woman (1917). In both portraits, the artist flattened the image, almost eliminating the distinction between the subject matter and the background.

Throughout World War I, Gris worked in Paris. After the war, he had his first major solo exhibition at Rosenberg’s Galerie l’Effort Moderne in Paris in 1919. Gris’s health began to deteriorate in 1922, and he moved to Boulogne-sur-Seine in the Western suburbs of Paris. Between 1922 and 1924, Gris designed stage sets and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev’s ballets, Les Tentations de la Bergère, and La Colombe. During this period, he also wrote essays that explained his aesthetic theories. In 1924, Gris delivered the lecture “Des possibilités de la Peinture” (The Possibilities of Painting) at the Sorbonne in Paris. Some of his major exhibitions include the 1923 shows at the Galerie Simon in Paris and the Galerie Flechtheim in Berlin and the 1925 show at the Galerie Flechtheim in Düsseldorf. Gris died from kidney failure on May 11, 1927, at his home in Boulogne-sur-Seine. He was only 40 years old.

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José Victoriano (Carmelo Carlos) González-Pérez (March 23, 1887 – May 11, 1927), better known as Juan Gris (Spanish: [ˈxwan ˈɡɾis]; French: [gʀi]), was a Spanish painter and sculptor born in Madrid who lived and worked in France most of his life. Closely connected to the innovative artistic genre Cubism, his works are among the movement's most distinctive.

Gris was born in Madrid. He later studied engineering at Madrid's School of Arts and Sciences. There, from 1902 to 1904, he contributed drawings to local periodicals. From 1904 to 1905, he studied painting with the academic artist José Moreno Carbonero. It was in 1905 that José Victoriano González adopted the more distinctive name Juan Gris.

In 1906 he moved to Paris and became friends with Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Fernand Léger. In Paris, Gris followed the lead of another friend and fellow countryman, Pablo Picasso. He submitted darkly humorous illustrations to journals such as the anarchist satirical magazine L'Assiette au Beurre, and also Le Rire, Le Charivari, and Le Cri de Paris.

Gris began to paint seriously in 1910 (when he gave up working as a satirical cartoonist), developing at this time a personal Cubist style. In A Life of Picasso, John Richardson writes that Jean Metzinger's 1911 work, Le goûter (Tea Time), persuaded Juan Gris of the importance of mathematics in painting. Gris exhibited for the first time at the 1912 Salon des Indépendants (a painting entitled Hommage à Pablo Picasso).

"He appears with two styles", writes art historian Peter Brooke, "In one of them a grid structure appears that is clearly reminiscent of the Goûter and of Metzinger's later work in 1912." In the other, Brooke continues, "the grid is still present but the lines are not stated and their continuity is broken. Their presence is suggested by the heavy, often triangular, shading of the angles between them... Both styles are distinguished from the work of Picasso and Braque by their clear, rational and measurable quality." Although Gris regarded Picasso as a teacher, Gertrude Stein wrote in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that "Juan Gris was the only person whom Picasso wished away".

In 1912 Gris exhibited at the Exposicío d'art cubista, galeríes J. Dalmau in Barcelona; the gallery Der Sturm in Berlin; the Salon de la Société Normande de Peinture Moderne in Rouen; and the Salon de la Section d'Or in Paris. Gris, in that same year, signed a contract that gave D.-H. Kahnweiler exclusive rights to his work.

At first Gris painted in the style of Analytical Cubism, a term he himself later coined, but after 1913 he began his conversion to Synthetic Cubism, of which he became a steadfast interpreter, with extensive use of papier collé or, collage. Unlike Picasso and Braque, whose Cubist works were practically monochromatic, Gris painted with bright harmonious colors in daring, novel combinations in the manner of his friend Matisse. Gris exhibited with the painters of the Puteaux Group in the Salon de la Section d'Or in 1912. His preference for clarity and order influenced the Purist style of Amédée Ozenfant and Charles Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier), and made Gris an important exemplar of the post-war "return to order" movement. In 1915 he was painted by his friend, Amedeo Modigliani. In November 1917 he made one of his few sculptures, the polychrome plaster Harlequin.

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Juan Gris Artworks
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