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Juan Gris

Written by Brett Nelson

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Posted on September 26 2019

Born: March 23, 1887, Madrid, Spain
Died: May 11, 1927, Boulogne-Billancourt, France

Painter, illustrator, and sculptor, Juan Gris was a leader in the early 20th Century Cubist movement with his works considered among the most distinctive of the movement. Born on March 23, 1887, in Madrid, Gris studied engineering, mathematics, mechanical drafting, and physics at the School of Arts and Sciences in his home city. During this time he contributed illustrations to local periodicals and in 1904 began studying painting with Jose Moreno Carbonero. In 1906 he moved to Paris, befriending stars in the thriving painting scene such as Fernand Leger, Henri Matisse, and Georges Braque. He became strongly influenced by the paintings of Pablo Picasso and continued as an illustrator for satirical magazines such as Le Cri de Paris, L’Assiette au Beurre, and Le Rire.

However, it wasn’t until 1910 that Gris began to paint seriously, giving up his job as an illustrator and devoting significant time and energy on his own painting and the development of his Cubist style. In 1912, Gris exhibited his “Homage to Picasso” painting at the Salon des Independants, leading to a contract with German art dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahweiler, who retained exclusive rights to his works. His initial works reflected an Analytical Cubism style, a term coined by himself and reflective of his experience in mathematics and engineering. However, in 1913 his style markedly changed to Synthetic Cubism, a style characterised by an expansive use of colours and the addition of collages and other materials. This new style moved away from the mechanical-like influence of Picasso and incorporated new, daring combinations more in line with the style of his friend Matisse. The outbreak of the First World War led to the breakdown of his business relationship with Kahnweiler and put Gris in financial difficulty. However, writer Gertrude Stein offered to provide Gris with financial backing and in 1916 he signed a new contract with French dealer Leconce Rosenberg.

From 1916 and throughout 1917, Gris again changed his style, simplifying the geometric structure in a style he coined Crystal Cubism. His influence led to Gris assuming a leading role during the Cubist movement of the time with artists and critics writing about the overall importance of his approach in advanced Cubism. Paintings such as “The Man from Touraine” were associated with classical order and leading examples of his influence during this period. In 1919, Gris finally produced a solo exhibition at Rosenberg’s Galerie l’Effort Moderne in Paris. Unfortunately, he suffered from an undiagnosed illness just a year later, thought to be pulmonary tuberculosis, which slowed him down considerably for the remainder of his life.

In 1924, Gris designed ballet costumes and sets for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes as well as illustrating texts for Stein and other friends throughout the early 1920s. This was perhaps the most financially stable period of his life and one of the most publically acclaimed periods also. He delivered lectures, circulated theories, and had solo exhibitions at the Galerie Simon in Paris, the Galerie Flechtheim in Berlin, and the Galerie Flechtheim in Dusseldorf throughout the early 1920s. Unfortunately, he was unable to enjoy this increase in fame and wealth for long due to a rapid decline in health. In 1925, he became frequently ill with cardiac problems and bouts of uremia. In 1927, he died of heart failure in Paris at the age of 40, leaving behind a wife and a son. Since his death, his art has sold at auction for millions of dollars. His 1913 artwork “Violon et guitare” sold for $28.6 million, his 1915 work “Livre, pipe et verres” sold for $20.8 million, and his top auction price of $57.1 million was received for his 1915 work “Nature morte a la nappe a carreaux”.

View Juan Gris Gallery