Between 1902 and 1904, Juan Gris learned technical drawing at the School of Arts and Manufacturing, and from 1904 to 1905 he studied painting at the workshop of José María Moreno Carbonero. Around this time, he produced humorous German-influenced illustrations for magazines such as Blanco y Negro, ¡Alegría! and Madrid Cómico.
In 1906, he left for Paris. Vázquez Díaz introduced him to the Bateau-Lavoir building, where he settled. He entered the Cubist circle which included Picasso, Braque and Léger, among others, as well as the art critics Apollinaire, Jacob and Salmon. At first he made a living illustrating publications such as the Catalan magazine Papitu and the French magazines L’Assiette au Beurre, Le Charivari, Le Rire and Le Cri de Paris. By 1910 he was painting full-time, and in 1912 he took part in the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon de la Section d’Or. His work was already moving away from realist figuration around this time, and that same year he signed an exclusive contract with art dealer Kahnweiler.
Starting from his first Cubist works, clearly influenced by Cézanne, he went on to develop a colorful geometric style dominated by cool, acid colors. He moved to Collioure after a season in Céret where, along with Picasso and Hugué, he introduced papier collé, a type of collage, to his canvases. He also investigated chiaroscuro, the behavior of the simulated volume of the plane, and the simultaneously constructive and figurative character of the painted image. His rigor and compositional quality, and the coldness, austerity and purity so characteristic of his work, were affirmed at that time. During the First World War he spent time with Matisse, Metzinger and Gleizes. He signed a three-year contract with Léonce Rosenberg, who organized his first solo exhibition in 1919 at the L’Effort Moderne Gallery. His painting then became more rational, ushering in a hugely productive period during which he became a master of Synthetic Cubism. The intellectuality that always characterized his work became more refined; it was no longer a matter of working on what was visible, but of creating a new intellectualized reality.
He signed another contract with Kahnweiler in 1920, who opened the Galerie Simon that same year. In the 1920s he collaborated with Diaghilev to produce costumes and sets for his ballets. His oil paintings had an important influence on painters from the Paris School such as Bores and Manuel Ángeles Ortiz.
From 1922 he settled in Boulogne-sur-Seine. In his final years, he produced some important theoretical essays in which he related his working methods and his concept of painting: Notes sur la peinture (1923), Des posibilités de la peinture (1924), and Réponse à l’enquête chez les cubistes (1925). The worsenin of his lung disease caused a notable decline in his activities in his final years, during which he mainly painted gouaches and watercolors as well as some illustrations for books.
Noemi de Haro