Juan Gris (1887–1927)
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Juan Gris (1887–1927)

La tranche de melon

Juan Gris (1887–1927)
La tranche de melon
signed and dated 'Juan Gris 26' (lower left)
oil on canvas
13 x 16 1/4 in. (33 x 41.2 cm.)
Painted in December 1926
Galerie Simon, Paris.
Svensk-Franska Konstgalleriet, Stockholm.
Dr Philip Sandblom, Stockholm, by whom acquired circa 1940, and thence by descent; sale, Sotheby's, London, 6 February 2014, lot 238.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
D. Cooper, Letters of Juan Gris, 1913-1927, London, 1956, no. CCXL (letter dated 20 December 1926).
J.A. Gaya Nuño, Juan Gris, Barcelona, 1984, no. 585 (illustrated p. 231).
D. Cooper, Juan Gris, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, vol. II, Paris, 1977, no. 600, p. 416 (illustrated p. 417).
Stockholm, Liljevalchs Konsthall, Cézanne till Picasso, September 1954, no. 168.
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Michelle McMullan, Specialist, Head of Day Sale
Michelle McMullan, Specialist, Head of Day Sale

Lot Essay

'Artists have thought a poetic effect could be made with beautiful models or beautiful subjects. We, on the other hand, believe that we can produce it with beautiful elements; for those of the intellect are certainly most beautiful'
(Gris, quoted in D.-H. Kahnweiler, Juan Gris: His Life and Work, trans. D. Cooper, London, 1969, p. 192).

La tranche de melon is a Cubist still-life, but of a different sort than those Gris, Picasso, and others had painted during the high analytic phase of the movement prior to the First World War. The fundamental planar structures are present, but serve mainly to frame and position within space the amalgam of objects, grouped together at the centre of this composition, and as contrast to the irregular contours of the tabletop. Gris has here declined to analyse form; instead he depicted objects as austere and idealized representations. The artist was in part responding to the neo-classical revival following the First World War, the “return to order.” He nevertheless inflected his forms with inventiveness and idiosyncrasy; his chief interest was to foment a free plasticity, a congenial play among interacting forms, as an expression of visual creativity akin to the sense of fantasy in lyric poetry.
Gris called his method “deductive,” as he wrote in 1923 for the dealer Alfred Flechtheim’s journal Der Querschnitt, “because the pictorial relationships between the coloured forms suggest to me certain private relationships between the elements of an imaginary reality...The quality or dimensions of a form or a colour suggest to me the appellation or the adjective for the object...If I particularize pictorial relationships to the point of representing objects, it is in order to prevent the combination of coloured forms suggesting to [the spectator] a reality which I have not intended...It is not picture ‘X’ which manages to correspond with my subject, but subject ‘X’ which manages to correspond with my picture” (“Notes on my Painting” in D.-H. Kahnweiler, Juan Gris: His Life and Work, New York, 1969, p. 194).
The use of contrasts, in colour and form, in conjunction with unexpected dislocations, was key to Gris’s compositional strategy for representing objects in space. The artist purposely skewered the orientation of the still-life arrangement resting on the blue table linen in the present painting, tilting it obliquely downward toward the lower left. The compotier, the sliced melon, and the folded copy of Le Journal, all appear poised to slide down the table. Although this configuration ostensibly rests on the dark planar trapezoid beneath it, Gris’s still-life seems to resist any expectation of a fixed stability, and floats freely in space.
Gris’s career by the mid-1920s was in full swing. A major exhibition of his work at Kahnweiler’s Galerie Simon in 1923 was well received. In the following year, the artist added to his growing reputation by delivering a notable lecture at the Sorbonne, Des Possibilités de la Peinture, thereafter published and translated into English, German, and Spanish. Alfred Flechtheim in April 1925 exhibited a selection works painted since 1920 in his Düsseldorf gallery. Later that year the important collectors Alphonse Kann and Dr. G.F. Reber began to acquire Gris’s recent canvases. The artist at long last experienced an enjoyable degree of financial security, and even turned down the offer of a contract from Paul Rosenberg, Picasso’s dealer.
“Gris continued to build edifices of pleasure to the end of his life,” Christopher Green has written. “In his last two or three years Gris added to this range of pleasurable still-life pictures which generate rather different connotations. These objects include those that I call objects of subjectivity” (Juan Gris, New Haven, 1992, p. 158). In early 1927, only months before his death, Gris contributed a statement to an anthology of modern painting which Maurice Raynal was preparing. “Today, at the age of forty, I believe I am approaching a new period of self-expression, of pictorial expression, of picture-language; a well-thought-out and well-blended unity. In short, the synthetic period has followed the analytical one” (quoted in D.-H. Kahnweiler, op. cit., 1969, p. 204).
“As a Spaniard he knew Cubism and stepped through into it. He had stepped through it,” Gertrude Stein wrote in her eulogy for Gris. “There was beside this perfection...Four years partly illness and much perfection and rejoining beauty and perfection and then at the end there came a definite creation of something. This is what is to be measured. He made something that is to be measured. And that is that something. Therein Juan Gris is not anything but more than anything. He made the thing. He made the thing to be measured...This is the history of Juan Gris” (“The Life of Juan Gris. The Life and Death of Juan Gris” in Transition, no. 4, July 1927, pp. 160-162).

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