Living Still Life

Juan Gris Press

by Christopher Green, with contributions by Christian Derouet, by Karin von Maur
Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, in association with Yale University, 311 pp., $50.00

Juan Gris 18–November 29, 1992; the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, December 18, 1992–February 14, 1993; the Rijksmuseum Kröller–Müller, Otterlo, March 6–May 2, 1993

an exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, September

When Gertrude Stein wrote that “painting in the nineteenth century was done only in France by Frenchmen, apart from that painting did not exist, in the twentieth century it was done in France but by Spaniards,” she was paying tribute to both Picasso and Juan Gris. She appears to have found Braque a bit boring and did not collect his work; and for reasons best known to herself she cherished the belief that Americans and Spaniards were brothers and sisters under the skin.

Despite a period of alienation during the war—itself brought about by Gertrude’s abortive efforts to help him—she was a good friend to Gris. She bought three fine works of his in 1914 just before the outbreak of war, and as many again in the 1920s; by then her own taste in things visual was becoming less secure and Gris’s own output was also becoming increasingly uneven. In 1925 Gris provided illustrations for Stein’s A Book Concluding With As A Wife Has A Cow A Love Story, which like the text have a slightly folkloric quality to them. When Gris died prematurely in 1927 at the age of forty she appears to have been genuinely grief-stricken, and described her essay “The Life and Death of Juan Gris” as “the most moving thing” she had ever written.

Picasso did not always behave wholly correctly toward Gris but was one of the chief mourners at his funeral; Gertrude resented this. It is significant that although Picasso owned works by many of his contemporaries he never exchanged works with Gris. Picasso liked to feel that he had exclusive rights to his friends and he may have resented Gris’s friendship with Stein and the fact that after the war Gris became the painter whom the dealer Kahnweiler most cherished.

Gris was born in Madrid in 1887. As a student there he had worked, using his original name of José Victoriano Carmel Carlos Gonzáles Pérez, under the academic painter José Moreno Carbonero (who later also taught Salvador Dali). He preferred to emphasize the scientific basis of his studies at the Escuela de Artes e Industrias (afterward called the Escuela Industrial). Gris began earning his living as a cartoonist, and appears to have been much in demand. Among the most distinguished periodicals to which he contributed was Blanco y Negro: he was still working for it in 1906 when he changed his name to Juan Gris, possibly as a pun. This same year he left for Paris where caricature was having a new vogue: Gris’s arrival coincided, for example, with the publication of Paul Gaultier’s serious study Le rire et la caricature. Gris was also avoiding military conscription in Spain, a move which cost him his passport and subsequently his liberty to travel. His cartoons show that he was a fluent, accomplished draftsman in the conventional mode of the time; but there is no wit in his line, as there is for example in the commercial …

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