Juan Gris – The Intellectual Cubist Painter & Sculptor From Spain

One of the greats of the Cubist Movement, Juan Gris was born José Victoriano González-Pérez, on March 23, 1887, to a wealthy businessperson in Madrid, Spain. In 1902, he joined the ‘Escuela de Artes y Manufacturas’ in Madrid to study Mechanical Drawing, only to quit it two years later. During his education itself, he had started contributing to local periodicals. From 1904-05, he started taking his first lessons in painting from the ‘Academic’ artist José Maria Carbonero. In 1905, he adopted the pseudonym of Juan Gris.

Painter and Sculptor, Juan Gris fled to Paris in 1906 and settled in a studio at the Bateau-Lavoir, where his compatriot, Pablo Picasso and other artists, such as Georges Braque and Max Jacob lived. Gris started as a caricaturist for journals, such as Le Rire, L’assiette au beurre, Le Charivari, and Le Cri de Paris. He soon however, encountered the avant-garde, with his initial works being ‘Post-Impressionist’ ‘Still-life.’ In 1911, Juan spent a year with Picasso and was drawn to the ‘Cubist Movement.’ He painted monochromatic still-life canvasses. He held his first exhibition in a small gallery, which was well received. This was followed by his first masterpiece, “Homage à Picasso” (1912), which was displayed at the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon d’Or. A German art dealer, Kahnweiler, who would remain his representative for life and even wrote his biography, offered a contract to Juan.

He evolved a new geometric style, “The Gris Grid,” which he employed in his works of 1912, the “Man in the Café” and “The Watch.” Juan then took to a new technique, which involved the use of long vertical strips. He however soon swung from it, as he latched on to ‘papier collés,’ better known as collages, an invention by Braque and Picasso. By 1913, Gris devised his own methods of cut and paste, wherein he would use the elements ‘Realistically’ and not as mere ‘Cubist’ representations. Juan’s were much richer and more colorful, as seen in the “Violin and Engraving” (1913), “The Marble Console” (1914), and “the Flowers” (1914).

The World War saw Kahnweiler going into exile and Juan, who had evaded conscription, become penniless. A contract with Leonce Rosenberg helped him survived until Kahnweiler’s returned. He left Paris with his friend Charlotte (Josette) Herpin to settle in Beaulieu, where he made the “Portrait of Josette” (1916). Gris’ skills grew rapidly, resulting in glittering pieces, such as the “Violin and Glass” (1918) and the “Harlequin at a Table” (1919). In 1920, Gris suffered a major bout of pleurisy.

Later, Sergei Diaghilev commissioned him to design the sets and costumes for “Les Tentations de la Berë,” in 1924. Gris held his only exhibition outside France at the Flechtheim Gallery, Duesseldorf, in 1925. This period though saw a general decline in the quality, the artist however, still managed to produce wonders, like the “Guitar with Sheet of Music” (1926). Juan Gris’ health deteriorated rapidly and he died on May 11, 1927, at the age of forty, at Boulogne-sur-Seine. He was survived by his wife and a son.