JUAN GRIS (1887-1927)
JUAN GRIS (1887-1927)
JUAN GRIS (1887-1927)
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JUAN GRIS (1887-1927)
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Always in Style: Property from the Collection of Herbert Kasper
JUAN GRIS (1887-1927)

Le moulin à café

Details
JUAN GRIS (1887-1927)
Le moulin à café
gouache, black Conté crayon and pencil on card
Sheet size: 18 ¼ x 11 7/8 in. (46.4 x 30.1 cm.)
Image size: 10 ¾ x 8 ½ in. (27.2 x 21.6 cm.)
Executed in 1916
Provenance
Georges González Gris, Paris (by descent from the artist).
Galerie Simon (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler), Paris.
Saidenberg Gallery, New York (by 1956, until at least 1958).
Private collection, New Jersey; sale, Christie's, New York, 18 May 1983, lot 158.
Waddington Galleries, Ltd., New York (acquired at the above sale).
Acquired from the above by the late owner, 8 August 1984.
Literature
P. Reverdy, Au soleil du plafond, Paris, 1955 (illustrated in color).
Art News Annual, 1958, vol. XXVII, p. 168 (illustrated).
D. Cooper and M. Potter, Juan Gris: Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, San Francisco, 2014, vol. I, p. 295, no. 168a (illustrated in color).
Exhibited
New York, Saidenberg Gallery, Gris/Laurens, April-May 1956.
London, Waddington Galleries, Groups VII, January 1984, p. 37, no. 47 (illustrated).
London, Waddington Galleries, Works on Paper, May 1984, p. 45, no. 16 (illustrated in color, p. 17; with incorrect support).
New York, Morgan Library & Museum, Mannerism and Modernism: The Kasper Collection of Drawings and Photographs, January-May 2011, p. 128, no. 49.

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Executed in 1916, Le moulin à café dates from the beginning of Juan Gris’ move towards an increasingly unified and clarified form of Cubism. Described by Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler as, “one of the most fruitful and beautiful” periods of Gris’ career, the war years saw the artist reach artistic maturity as he forged this new synthetic mode of painting. He ceased working directly from nature and instead began constructing compositions out of abstract arrangements of planes, shapes and forms that were subsequently made to denote specific objects.
The present work, with its combination of planes depicted with various media, is reminiscent of the collages that had preoccupied Gris throughout 1914. The practice of papiers collés offered new ways of composing his pictures. Combining cut and pasted papers with oil paints and drawing media, Gris deftly portrayed objects in shifting spatial contexts, combining multiple viewpoints in a single composition, as well as emphasizing the inherent flatness of the constituent materials. Constantly defying the viewer’s expectations, these collages played with viewer’s perceptions as well as with the very nature of an artwork and the processes of picture making.
By 1915 however, as the realities of the war took hold, Gris ceased to play these pictorial games. Paris was a city of privation, its inhabitants living with night-time Zeppelin raids and the threat of bombardment. On a personal level, Gris’ friends, Guillaume Apollinaire, Georges Braque, and Fernand Léger were serving at the Front; he received news of Braque’s severe head injury in May of that year. As a Spaniard living in France, Gris was frequently viewed with suspicion. In addition, his dealer, Kahnweiler, a German native, had been forced to flee to Switzerland, leaving him without a source of income and support.
Gris’ situation changed somewhat when he signed a contract with Léonce Rosenberg, the cubist dealer who had stepped into the vacuum that Kahnweiler’s absence had left in Paris. Le moulin à café is one of a group of drawings that Rosenberg commissioned from Gris in 1915-1916. These works were intended to be included in a publication, Entre les 4 murs et sur la table, planned to consist of twenty poems by Pierre Reverdy, illustrated by twenty corresponding still lifes by Gris. Gris created eleven gouaches for the project, which was never realized during his lifetime. It was not until 1955 when the book was published by Tériade, entitled Au soleil du plafond. Other gouaches include Compotier, now part of the Leonard A. Lauder Cubist Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and Moulin à café, tasse et verre sur une table in the Museo Reina Sofía, Madrid.
Both Reverdy’s poems and Gris’ images were intended to share the same title, thereby offering a visual and literary description of the same group of domestic objects. Le moulin à café is the visual counterpart to Reverdy’s poem of the same title. Here, Reverdy used familiar, domestic objects to allude to war. In the same way, Gris’ Le moulin à café “is rife with a similar array of connotations, not the least of which is that, at the time, coffee mill was soldiers’ slang for 'machine gun'” (M. Faust, quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2011, p. 128):
“On the cloth were a few grains of powder or coffee.
War or respite on fronts which wrinkle together.
The fragrance mingled with the calls of evening, the
world closes its eyes and the mill ground black like
our heads. In the circle of voices, a cloud rises. A pane
of glass at the lip that muddles our thoughts.”
(quoted in ibid., p. 128).
In the present work, Gris has used a combination of traditional modes of representation—the illusionistic pencil shading to suggest the folds in the white tablecloth, the coffee grinder handle, and the sleek form of the coffee pot—and the more avant-garde, quintessentially cubist devices, including the pointillist-style gouache dots and the faux-bois planes. Together these opposing forms of representation both emphasize the inherent flatness of the picture plane and at the same time, attempt to create an illusionistic sense of depth and verisimilitude. This combination of seemingly antithetical techniques was a perfect reflection of Gris’ desire at this time “to continue the tradition of painting with plastic means, while bringing to it a new aesthetic based on the intellect” (quoted in K. Silver, “Juan Gris: Between Cubism and Classicism” in E. Braun and R. Rabinow, eds., Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2014, p. 199). It was this that lay at the heart of his distinctive form of Synthetic Cubism.

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