José Victoriano (Carmelo Carlos) González-Pérez
(March 23, 1887 – May 11, 1927), better known as Juan Gris,
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.
Born in Madrid, Gris studied mechanical drawing at the Escuela de Artes y
Manufacturas in Madrid from 1902 to 1904, during which time 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 Le Rire, L'assiette au beurre, Le Charivari, and Le Cri de Paris.
Gris began to paint seriously in 1911 (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 (numbers) in painting. Gris
started painting persistently in 1911 and 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
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.
Gris's works from late 1916 through 1917, more so than before, exhibit a
simplification of geometric structure, a blurring of the distinction between
objects and setting, between subject matter and background. The oblique overlapping
planar constructions, tending away from equilibrium, can best be seen in the
artists Woman with Mandolin, after Corot (September 1916) and in its
epilogue Portrait of Josette Gris (October 1916) Museo Reina Sofia.
The clear-cut underlying geometric framework of these works seemingly control
the finer elements of the compositions; the constituent components, including the
small planes of the faces, become part of the unified whole. Though Gris certainly
had planned the representation of his chosen subject matter, the abstract armature
serves as the starting point. The geometric structure of Juan Gris's Crystal period
is already palpable in Still Life before an Open Window, Place Ravignan
(June 1915) Philadelphia Museum of Art. The overlapping elemental planar structure
of the composition serves as a foundation to flatten the individual elements onto a
unifying surface, foretelling the shape of things to come. In 1919 and particularly
1920, artists and critics began to write conspicuously about this 'synthetic'
approach, and asserting its importance in the overall scheme of advanced
In 1924, he designed ballet sets and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev and the
famous Ballets Russes.
Gris articulated most of his aesthetic theories during 1924 and 1925. He
delivered his definitive lecture, Des possibilités de la peinture, at the
Sorbonne in 1924. Major Gris exhibitions took place at the Galerie Simon in Paris
and the Galerie Flechtheim in Berlin in 1923 and at the Galerie Flechtheim in
Düsseldorf in 1925.
The top auction price for a Gris work is $57.1 million (£34.8 million), achieved
for his 1915 painting Nature morte à la nappe à carreaux (Still Life with
Checkered Tablecloth). This surpassed previous records of $20.8 million for
his 1915 still life Livre, pipe et verres (Book, Pipe and
Glasses) and $28.6 million for the 1913 artwork Violon et guitare (Violin