'A table might be considered by a housewife in a more or less utilitarian way. A furniture-maker will notice the way in which it is made and the quality of the wood used in its manufacture. A poet, a bad poet, will associate it with the happiness of a home etc...For a painter, it will simply be an ensemble of flat, coloured forms. And I insist upon flat forms, for to consider those forms in a spatial world would be more the business of a sculptor.' (Juan Gris, 'Une conférence de Juan Gris', ext cat/. Juan Gris and Fernand Léger, Kunsthaus, Zurich, Cahiers d'art, Paris, May 1933.)
When Juan Gris arrived in Paris, he intended to become a mechanical draughtsman. Chance led him to find accomodation in the famous 'Bateau-Lavoir' in Montmartre, the building which provided a home to so many of the greatest artists of the Twentieth Century, not least his compatriot Pablo Picasso. It was therefore chance that led Gris to Cubism. Gris had to struggle more than Braque and Picasso, as he was a relative newcomer to the movement. However, in 1913, Gris's fortunes changed significantly. Not only did he meet Josette, his future wife, but he also made a deal with Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler which provided him with financial security and an outlet for his works for the rest of his short life. Le guéridon ('The Small Table') was one of the works which passed through Kahnweiler's gallery. That this work also went through dealer Léonce Rosenberg's hands shows how Kahnweiler's luck was about to change for the worse: as an undesirable alien during the First World War, his possessions were confiscated and later sold, including the contents of his gallery. The sale took place in 1920, and Kahnweiler managed to buy back some, but by no means all, of his possessions. Rosenberg is known to have bought several important cubist works at that auction.
Kahnweiler was not merely Gris's dealer, but his friend and mentor. Indeed, after Gris died Kahnweiler became his biographer. After a difficult period of growth by 1914 Juan Gris had reached a plateau and his art began to flourish. Gris's engineering background never left him, and as a result his Cubism always carried an architectural solidity and confidence. This background also influenced his scientific interest in the two dimensional depiction of three dimesional objects. The chequered area in Le guéridon was explored in several paintings of this period which include a chessboard amongst the objects displayed. Where the depiction of three dimensional objects was one obstacle to overcome, the challenge of representing an essentially two dimensional object in the context of three dimensional objects stimulated Gris, who here presents the surface with a jumbled grid of offset triangles and squares, giving a sense of the angle at which the board lies within the depicted three dimensional space. Where usually such faceting is employed in Cubist works to evoke volume, (Fig?) and therefore the monumentality of the object, here the same faceting is used to evoke flat patterning. It is a Cubist visual pun. This chequering also acts as an artistic plumb-line, furnishing this painting with a perspectival key and depth.
It was shortly after painting Le guéridon that Gris created a series of very confident collages, similar in technique to those created by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Gino Severini. (Fig?) The exploration of texture within Cubist works greatly interested Gris, but he usually refused to resort to taking real objects and placing them in the work, where, he felt, they would merely represent themselves. Instead, in Le guéridon, Gris manipulates the paint to provide the artist with a visual feast - wood, material and glass jostle and contrast. Le guéridon is exuberant in its sensual enjoyment of these different textures.
This exuberance is evident in Gris's portrayal of different, contrasting shapes. The harsh lines and colours of the chequered pattern contrast with the curves of decanter and bottle, and even the curve of the table. Gris has created an absorbing counterpoint of visual effects, the grid of the board making the glass vessels seem all the more curvaceous, their curves in turn reinforcing the linearity of other elements. In this, Gris has managed to provide the objects depicted with a certain monumentality, imbuing them with an honesty and truth. The images truly represent the depicted objects, and translate more than visual meaning. It is in the calculated combination of these varied effects - the mathematical structure and virtuoso rendering of textures - that one perceives the truth of the critic Christian Zervos's words on Gris's death, when he referred to the artist as 'one of modern painting's artisans' (Christian Zervos, 'Juan Gris', Cahiers d'Art, no.6, Paris, 1927, p.170).
Oil on canvas
THE PROPERTY OF A LADY
Signed 'Juan Gris' (on the reverse)
Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum, An International Exhibition of Modern Art, November-December 1926, no. 208.
31¾ x 23¼in. (80.6 x 59.2cm.)
D. Cooper, Juan Gris, vol. I, Paris, 1977, no. 79, p.130 (illustrated p. 131).
Galerie Kahnweiler, Paris (5133).
Léonce Rosenberg, Paris.
René Gaffé, Cagnes, and thence by descent to his wife.
A gift from the above to the present owner.