Juan Gris (born Jose Victoriano Gonzalez) was brought up in Madrid 1887; in 1906 he fled to France to avoid military conscription, where he joined the circle of avant-garde poets and artists (which included Braque). His first works were post-impressionist still life but he soon eagerly followed the path towards abstraction right behind Picasso and Braque and converted to cubism.
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Cubism dated back to the beginning of the 20th century, it was a turning point in the modern art and with its different ideals it confused many artists. It was established for a synthetic purpose, so that when an image was depicted its views were not limited and it would be able to be viewed simultaneously with multiple perspectives. In 1911 Gris followed this shifting trend and began to produce analytical works. Eventually his works began to acquire certain uniqueness, which was the due to Gris’ own conception of cubism. He believed in creating and explanation of forms rather than a complication, he expresses this approach in his remark about Cezanne ~ “Cezanne made a cylinder out of a bottle. I start from the cylinder to create a special kind of individual object, I make a bottle out of a cylinder…” the cubist movement had now moved from analytical to synthetic and Gris was one of its strongest supporters. Gris lived a concise and miserable life, suffering chronic depression, implications of war and a physical illness. He was highly dedicated to his work and had a strong passion for art. He died at the age of 40 in 1927.
Juan Gris work “The violin” 1916 is composed with few objects, overlapping in colour planes and balanced diagonals. The composition is focused on a musician’s violin, stool, music sheet and bow. The picture appears to be sombre and depressing with dull colours. Creating a feeling of solitude and confinement, with the violin giving off an essence of relief, an escape amongst the wooden doors and stool. It appears to be entrapped within the chaotic muddle of objects leaving a feeling of confusion about the whole painting but certainty of the violin.
Gris was very fond of musicians and the way their talents were expressed through musical instruments; Gris view was explained by Mark Rosenthal ~”The musical instrument, as a tool of the musician, was an analogue to the implements of the painter”. The violin is presented as being an opportunity for expression; the music and bow allow the audience to realise that there is nothing restricting self-expression. Even though there is a great perplexity with its surroundings the violin is depicted very clearly and it’s meaning is easily conveyed; the violin is an opportunity for expression which can be a refuge amongst anything.
“The Violin” is cubist style oil on panel painting consisting of overlapping colour planes (grey, black and brown), angular and diagonal shapes, shallow space with light and shadows. The tones of the painting are very sombre and subtle, which mainly reflect the time period and emotional state of Gris. Gris was also a great perfectionist of the collage, a part of that is visible with the highly contrasting white piece of music paper. It stands out from the dull colourings of background and violin, but still it attracts more focus towards the violin. Even though the painting has different tones and shadows, the space remains shallow, nearly flat, allowing everything in the picture to be visible almost at the first glance. The subject of the painting appears to be very classical; the objects are representative of a classical culture of art and music and were also popular amongst cubist painters. With the violin placed in the middle, it allows it to be immediately recognised as the focal point, projecting its meaning about how the ability to express yourself is an asylum amongst chaos. The shapes are very angular and the diagonals are parallel.
The year “The Violin” was painted in was 1916, time of war. Many artists of this period were struck by the brutality of war, which squandered their outlook of life to a mere miserable disappointment. Most paintings now reflected their feelings and emotions of depression. Gris was one of the few men that did not enlist in the war, left in France, the gallery containing his works was ceased by the government, leaving Gris with no source of income. He became highly susceptible to the grief and was commencing his decline to depression. However during these years Gris was able to truly explore himself and became highly creative, Kahnweiler (Gris’ art dealer and patron) stated post war about Gris artistic progression ~”I had left behind a young painter whose works I liked. I had returned to find a master.” “The Violin” was considered to be one of Gris most successful works. The tonal colours of the painting reflect Gris emotions, also in the previous years he had begun to experiment with tones and began to incorporate the object’s tones with the background; this is seen in “The Violin”.
The Cubist movement was a breakthrough in the history of art as it allowed a wider acceptance of new artistic styles and movements. Gris work followed that of Picasso and Braque, but his work however was not classified as pure abstraction: it was much more depictive. Nevertheless he was not a realist and one historian described his artistic goal as ~”basic faith in the possibility of transfiguring reality without hopelessly compromising its identity”. Gris was irritated by the extensive theory of abstraction, and tried consistently to differentiate himself from the more famous Picasso and Braque. The objects in “The Violin” remain recognisable and whole, but still retain the effect of abstraction. “The Violin” is subtle but still conveys a meaning more defined than that of many other cubist works. He was seen as a Cubist supporter who spent much effort trying to personalise his appropriations. Cubism sparked off a stream of artistic movements influencing Orphism, Purism, Precisionism, Futurism, Constructivism and Expressionism.
Juan Gris was a highly intellectual artist, even though he did not receive the recognition he deserved throughout his life. He was a valuable influence on the Cubist movement and many others to follow. His works contained great sense of balance, prolific use of collage and colour tones.