The following four still lifes by Juan Gris are all from the celebrated collection of Douglas Cooper (1911-1984). A prominent art historian and critic, Cooper began to amass what would become one of the most important collections of Cubist works of art in 1927. One of the most eloquent and principal apologists of Cubism, his massive bibliography includes books, major exhibition catalogues and innumerable articles on the subject. His study of Cubism culminated in two extraordinary exhibitions: The Cubist Epoch at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1970, and The Essential Cubism at the Tate Gallery in 1983. In 1958 Cooper's collection of works by Gris was described as one of the finest in existence. His devotion to Gris' work is apparent, moreover, in his writings, which include the catalogue raisonné on the artist's paintings, published in 1977.
Having worked as an illustrator in Madrid and Barcelona, Gris arrived in Paris in 1906, and as fortune would have it, resided at 13 rue Ravignan in Montmartre, the now famous "Bateau-Lavoir" where Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and other artists had their studios. Although Gris met Picasso that year, it was not until 1910 that Gris began to paint and draw in the naturalistic manner divorced from his illustrational style. In his still life drawings from this period objects are rendered using weighty chiaroscuro, exemplified by Nature morte à la cruche (lot 118).
In 1911 the dealer Clovis Sagot bought some of his paintings, and Gris finally gave up his day job to devote all of his time to painting. Very quickly, and under the influence of his neighbors, his drawings assume the transparent, crystalline quality for which the artist is noted. He gave up Renaissance perspective for a more intuitive approach, often viewing objects from a high vantage point. In Nature morte avec verre et soupière (lot 119) from 1911, the table-top is cropped, tilted and irregular, and the contours of the still life objects are angular and disjointed. In fact, in Nature morte avec coupe et verre (lot 120) which also dates from 1911, the table consists only of diagonal lines and space is so undefined that the cup and glass appear to float. Much is owed to the impact of Picasso and Braque, and we witness the underlying influence of Paul Cézanne as well.
Referring to the later Nature morte à la théière (lot 121), drawn in 1916, Dorothy Kosinski comments that "the pattern of the light is abstracted and severely rationalized, and transformed thence into delicately defined passages of light and dark which at once obscure and define, analyze and eradicate the continuity of the objects and the space around them. The tension between subject-object and subject-pattern is the crux of Gris' creative process at this point" (D.M. Kosinski and J. Richardson, Douglas Cooper and the Masters of Cubism, exh. cat., Basel and London, 1987, p. 84).
Gris, whose work, according to Douglas Cooper lacks all symbology, devoted more than half his oeuvre to the representation of the still life, a subject deeply rooted in the Spanish pictorial tradition. Christian Derouet states "Gris' drawn universe consists only of a few subjects. He draws mainly objects. He is happy with the everyday implements to be found in his studio at Bateau Lavoir. Maurice Raynal, a close friend of the artist and one of his most sympathetic and judicious critics, who was able to appreciate Picasso, Fernand Léger and Gris as a group while seeing the differences between them, talks of Gris' aesthetic in terms of a journey around the room, a journey of rediscovery focused on bowls, jugs, spoons and coffee grinders, in which he rediscovers the 'delightful minor deities of the sideboard' ("Experimentation with a Return to Representation in Gris's Drawings," Juan Gris, Paintings and Drawings 1910-1927, exh. cat., Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, 2005, p. 119). The objects in the present group of drawings appear humanized by Gris, and render a nearly human presence. Not surprisingly, when contemplating these works, Gertrude Stein, a friend of Gris' and great admirer of his art, concluded that for Gris "still life is a religion."