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José Victoriano González-Pérez, more commonly known as Juan Gris, was born in 1887 in Madrid, Spain. He studied at the Madrid School of Arts and Science, where he contributed drawing for many periodicals at the time, from 1902 to 1904. Later he began studying painting with the academic artist José Moreno Carbonero, for one year. During this time, he adopted the more distinctive name, Juan Gris.
He moved to Paris in 1906, where he became friends with many artists, like Henri Matisse, and Georges Braque, and the poets Max Jacob and Guillaume Apollinaire. He submitted illustrations to many journals, many of them with darkly humorous overtones.
He would begin to paint seriously around 1911, giving up the satirical cartoonist career, developing a very personal Cubist style influenced by his friends Jean Metzinger and Pablo Picasso. Their work, specially Metzinger’s, became a reference to Gris to the importance of mathematics in composition and painting. One year later, he exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants with the artwork in question which was entitled Portrait of Pablo Picasso.
Gris showed at an exhibition called Exposicio D’art Cubista, at Galeries Dalmau in Barcelona. This event is regarded as the first Cubist group exhibition worldwide.
His style has changed throughout the years. At first, he painted in Analytical Cubism, a term he coined himself. After 1913, he began going towards the Synthetic Cubism, with extensive use of collage and papier collé. His style differs from many Cubist artists of the time, like Picasso or Braque, whose works were predominantly monochromatic, but instead reminisces the works of Matisse regarding his use of bright and harmonious colors - at the same time considered a daring and novel combination of colors.
Through the years, Gris’ works became greatly simplified regarding the geometric structure, blurring the distinction between object and setting, background and subject matter. These characteristics can be seen clearly in Woman with Mandolin (after Corot), the oblique overlapping of planar construction.
In his work Still Life before an Open Window Place Ravignan, which is in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is possible to observe some of Gris’ composition methods, as he created an overlapping planar structure that serves as a foundation and unifies the surface to the elements.
Besides a painter, Juan Gris was also regarded as a designer and a prolific theorist. He designed costumes and ballet sets for the famous Ballets Russes and Sergei Diaghilev. In terms of theory and aesthetics, Gris delivered his definitive lecture at the Sorbonne in 1924, Des possibilités de la Peinture. In his late years, he had many major exhibitions, and they took place at Galerie Simon in Paris, as well as in Berlin, and Düsseldorf, at the Galerie Flechtheim.
Juan Gris died at age 40, on 11 May 1927, of renal failure. He left his wife Josette and son, Georges.