Juan Gris (1887-1927)
Juan Gris (1887-1927)

Raisins, carafe et livre

Juan Gris (1887-1927)
Raisins, carafe et livre
signed and dated 'Juan Gris. 1922' (lower left)
oil on canvas
15 1/8 x 18 1/8 in. (38 x 46 cm.)
Painted in 1922
Galerie Simon, Paris (no. 7436).
Galerie Mettler, St. Gallen, Switzerland (no. 431).
Mme Vandervelde, Switzerland; sale, Sotheby's, London, 17 February 1932, lot 136.
Major Simmons, London; sale, Christie's, London, 27 March 1973, lot 24.
Galerie Jan Krugier, Geneva.
Brook Street Gallery, London.
Private collection, Europe, by whom acquired from the above in 1975.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1994.
D. Cooper & M. Potter, Juan Gris, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, vol. II, Paris, 1977, no. 405 (illustrated p. 227).
Paris, L'esprit nouveau, 1922, no. 20 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie Simon, Juan Gris, March - April 1923, no. 46.

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Michelle McMullan
Michelle McMullan

Lot Essay

Raisins, carafe et livre is a bold still-life that displays the Juan Gris' mastery of the still-life genre that had preoccupied artist since his first cubist explorations in 1912. With a dynamic palette of warm and cool hues, Gris returns to the domestic objects that had continued to serve as the basis for his compositions since his earliest investigations of Cubism, rendered anew by the nature of their formal investigation, their development within the trajectory of his art, at this point delving into colour. A bright orange, fictive border frames the still-life scene, providing a pictorial stage on which to view Gris’ masterful formal inventiveness.

Seeing Gris' latest work upon his return to Paris in 1920, Kahnweiler commented: 'I left behind a young painter whose works I liked. I had returned to find a master' (Kahnweiler, quoted in J. T. Soby, Juan Gris, exh. cat., New York, 1958, p. 93). This new mastery to which Kahnweiler referred was an increased confidence of execution and lucidity of composition, that would continue into his later painting. Gris, who was exempt from military service as a foreign national, was one of the few Cubist artists who could continue to paint during the years of the war; these years proved to be both fruitful and important for the development of his precise and predominately intellectual approach to Cubism. In particular, Gris noted that the period, when he was at the centre of an informal community of artists working in Beaulieu-lès-loches in the Touraine, marked a significant time of change: 'I realise today that until 1918, I went through a period which was exclusively representative. A little after there were periods of composition, then those of colour' (Gris, quoted in C. Green. 'Synthesis and the "Synthetic Process" in the painting of Juan Gris, 1915-19', Art History, vol. 5, no. 1, March 1982, p. 97).

This compositional progress is clearly apparent in the present painting. Both softly curving and angular forms, delineated by subtly blended colour and shading, lyrically echo across the surface of the picture plane. Gris' favoured motifs - a newspaper, a pipe, a bottle and a bunch of grapes - fuse and merge, yet remain legible.

Gris zooms in on the grouping and utilises a clear oval to encompass his centred composition. This oval shape serves the purpose of directing the attention of the eye, the bright orange edges stimulating the central palette. The oval had become a fundamental device during the earlier cubist days for its founding artists, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. When serving as a border or frame, the oval could achieve a concentration within the picture plane and to direct the eye, following the ever-mobile line, back into the composition. Braque and Picasso had begun to employ oval canvases circa 1909-1910 as a means to negotiate the hard, arbitrary, edges of the square canvas. As Michel Seuphor comments: “A remark attributed to Braque is very pertinent here: "Thanks to the oval," he is supposed to have said, "I have discovered the meaning of the horizontal and the vertical." The attraction which the oval exerted on the Cubists and on Mondrian can be easily understood: the presence of the curved line makes it possible, by opposition, to accentuate the straight lines. The closed form induces a sounding of the infinite.” (M. Seuphor, Abstract Painting, New York, 1964, p. 38).

Painted in the summer of 1922, from the later phase of the artist’s career prior to his premature death in 1927, Raisins, carafe et livre exudes a sense of compositional balance and harmony. The objects are arranged frontally across the canvas, and are depicted with a sense of totality and wholeness. Gris’ dealer, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler posited that it was during these final years of the artist’s life that his work attained a perfect equilibrium between a carefully composed compositional structure and a sensuous harmony of colour and form; a summation of his artistic explorations. He wrote, ‘It was at this time that he laid the foundations of the method that culminated in the masterpieces of his last years, which sum up the whole of his earlier work.’ (D. H. Kahnweiler, Juan Gris, His Life and Work, London, 1969, p. 144).

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