When Juan Gris returned to Paris in early November 1913 from his three-month sojourn in Céret, he had good reason to be pleased with the pictures he had painted there. He completed thirteen canvases in a consistently focused and formally cohesive series of still-lifes, figures and landscapes, paintings which constituted the most assured, fully fledged and distinctively personal work he had done to date. John Golding has declared, "Gris, who had always been an original painter, had during 1912 asserted himself as an important influence on the minor figures of the Cubist movement. Now, in 1913, he was executing works which match the contemporary paintings of Picasso and Braque in quality and invention... Gris' work of 1913 shows rather a steady progression toward an increasingly accomplished and commanding kind of painting" (op. cit., p. 129). Indeed, among these pictures are several that would eventually be counted among the very best he ever painted, indisputable masterworks that demonstrate an astonishing and dazzling synthesis of idea, color and form. Violon et guitare was Gris' own favorite among these Céret paintings, as he mentioned in a letter quoted below. This painting has since come to be widely regarded as a peak in his magnificent oeuvre, and one of the milestones of cubism and early modernism.
Gris arrived in Céret, a small town in the mountains of the Pyrénées-Orientales region, near the border with Spain, in mid-August. It was his first trip away from Paris since he arrived in the capital from Madrid in 1906. Josette Herpin, his appealing new girlfriend, accompanied him. He enjoyed being in close proximity to his native land, as near as he would ever come for the remainder of his life--he had evaded his obligatory military service in Spain and would have been prosecuted if he returned. Gris completed the first pictures in his new surroundings before the end of the month (Cooper, nos. 49 and 50; figs. 1 and 2). He was corresponding with Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, his Paris dealer. Earlier that year Kahnweiler signed a contract with Gris, as he had earlier done with Braque, Picasso and Léger, which affirmed his exclusive right to buy the artist's available and future production. Since his arrival in Paris, Gris had been struggling to eke out a living selling caricatures and illustrations to magazines and reviews; it was not until 1910 that he turned to serious oil painting. Now under contract, Gris was finally free from the stress of daily financial cares, and he could now even afford a working vacation. Many years later Kahnweiler authored an indispensable monograph on the artist (op. cit.), in which he recalled that "Gris worked with a will at Céret." The artist sent Kahnweiler a letter dated 17 September:
"This is to tell you that I am about to send off five pictures which I have finished: The Bullfighter [fig. 2], The Banker [Le Fumeur, Cooper, no. 51; fig. 3], The Guitar!!! [Cooper, no. 53; fig. 4], Landscape [Cooper, no. 55; fig. 5], and Violin and Guitar!!! [the present painting]. Tell me what you think of them, especially the last two. I have worked particularly hard on the latter and cannot decide what I think about it. I like Violin best. As soon as it is dry, that is say in two or three days, I will them both to you. I am very happy here and hope to remain until the end of October or the first of November. I am working hard and seem to see much more clearly certain things which I could not manage in Paris" (op. cit., p. 21).
Kahnweiler continues: "After the pictures had arrived in Paris I wrote to tell him how pleased I was with them, and also that Picasso had expressed himself favorably. To this he replied: 'Thank you very much for your nice letter and encouragement which it has brought me. You know I am always worried about doing something foolish, even though I have put all my faith in a great effort. I am comforted to hear yours and Picasso's opinion'" (ibid.).
Picasso's positive response to the paintings was especially important to Gris. Picasso had also been painting in Céret that summer (Zervos, vol. 4, no. 436; fig. 6) and was present for part of the time while Gris was there, but he had not been openly receptive to his colleague's visit. Gris considered himself to be Picasso's pupil. Shortly after Gris first arrived in Paris, Picasso helped find him a studio, which van Dongen had recently vacated, in the basement of the Bateau-Lavoir, the derelict artist's building at 13, rue Ravignan, where Picasso worked between 1904 and 1909. When Gris began painting in 1910, he worked in a naturalistic manner at first, but within a year he had taken up cubism. "The example of Picasso and Braque was there for Gris to follow," James Thrall Soby has written. "He did so with conviction and relish once his mind was made up. Thereafter it was the problem of Gris, a stubborn, dedicated man, to hold his own against a meteoric virtuoso (Picasso) and a supreme French craftsman (Braque)" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1958, p. 13). Gertrude Stein noticed that Gris "began to call Picasso cher maître to Picasso's great... annoyance Picasso used to address Braque as cher maître, passing on the joke" (The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, New York 1933/1969, p. 92). While in Céret, the effusive and voluble Gris indulged his predilection for theorizing on cubist painting to whomever would listen; his rambling discourses reminded Picasso of the lesser cubists who showed in the annual modernist Salons, whose shop talk, he felt, was as insufferably pretentious and beside the real point of cubism as their painting. John Richardson has written:
"By signing with Kahnweiler, Gris had unwittingly incurred Picasso's wrath. In his blind zeal to become accepted as cubism's third man, he was confidant that he and his attractive new mistress, Josette Herpin, would be welcomed into Picasso's summer tertulia [intimate circle of friends] and--who knows?--take the place of the absent Braque [who was then painting in Sorgues]. For his part, Picasso saw Gris as a sorcerer's apprentice--doubly dangerous for his mastery of the sorcerer's secrets--and as a tactless fool for invading Picasso's preserve and setting himself up in the local café as a cubist dialectician... Picasso's dudgeon worsened as he sat--in silence except for the occasional barbed remark--listening to his former pupil pontificate... During the two weeks they were together in Céret, they were unlikely to have seen each other's work: Picasso would not have been that forthcoming, and Gris would have had very little to show. To his credit, Picasso would be full of praise for Gris's Céret paintings when Kahnweiler showed them to him in October. Later, the two painters would be reconciled, but Picasso would always resent his only real pupil: he had turned out too well. He came to regret not owning any examples of Gris's work..." (A Life of Picasso: 1907-1917, The Painter of Modern Life, New York, 1996, p. 282).
Gris had impressed Kahnweiler with his potential for greatness from the beginning, and in Céret, which Kahnweiler called "the Mecca of Cubism," Gris had truly shown his stuff, in both his character and his work. "In this period of growing assurance," Kahnweiler wrote, "Gris' faith and his complete lack of skepticism were perhaps even more impressive than the self-confidence of Braque, of Léger, or of Picasso. For their assurance was born of confidence in their own talents, whereas Gris always tended to underestimate his, and had nothing but his heroic constancy on which to rely... During the summer of 1913, which Gris spent at Céret, his painting matured... Several still-lifes, Catalan landscapes and figure pictures were the fruits with which he returned in the autumn to the Rue Ravagnan. What strikes me in these canvases is the extreme intellectual rigour in the application of the theories he had adopted after mature reflection... Gris clearly envisaged leading up to a true 'painting of ideas'" (op. cit., p. 22 and 121).
* * *
The presence of the violin and guitar are a persistent feature in Gris' still-life compositions of 1913; of the thirty-odd table-top arrangements that the artist painted in that year, music is the fundamental theme in twenty of them, and most of these involve the representation of either the violin, guitar or occasionally, as in the present painting, both instruments together. The violin and the guitar are perhaps the most poetically evocative still-life motifs in the cubist inventory of everyday objects. These instruments signify that the artist has figuratively left the isolation of the studio and has connected with the world of public performance and entertainment, whether it is the high art of the salon or the popular music making enjoyed in a metropolitan café or a village taverna. The violin especially may evoke art both high and low: it is the instrument that transmits the refined emotional aspirations of classical art, expressed in the sonatas of Bach, Beethoven or the leading French composers of Gris' day--Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. The violin is also the instrument of the humble country fiddler, who might play to accompaniment of a guitar, that more commonplace instrument a writer in the Madrid journal Arte Joven called "a symbol of the popular soul" (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1984, p. 45). Soby has written:
"Indeed, the taut, elegant and inevitable contours of the violin had more persistent meaning for Gris than for his fellow-cubists. It is true that Braque also had been fascinated by violins and had accentuated their keys, scrolls and sound holes in a number of his works... Picasso on the other hand, made more frequent use of the guitar and mandolin, whose rounded outlines better suited his purpose [fig. 7]. It seems plausible to assume that the cubists, in their arduous task of reappraising everyday appearances through a new and revolutionary plastic system, liked the violin, the guitar and the mandolin because the basic design of these instruments had undergone very little change for several centuries. Their challenge to the cubists was all the more explicit. At any rate, the violin's complexity of design appears in a sense to symbolize the conscientious intellectuality which Gris brought to cubist research" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1958, pp. 26-27).
In Violon et guitare Gris appears to have given pre-eminence to the violin, whose neck, scroll and pinched body he has projected in three contrasting sections, while he subjected the form of the guitar to a noticeably less dramatic, almost straightforward treatment. The vertical, ascending forms of the violin sections surmount the prone form of the guitar; the latter, moreover, has been partially obscured beneath superimposed planar elements. Gris may be drawing attention to the superior expressive qualities of his featured instrument over Picasso's typical preference for the guitar: the violin, as a melody instrument, is the primary voice of the musical composition, while the guitar assumes a secondary role in providing a simpler strummed, chordal accompaniment. Both instruments often carry a feminine connotation in pictorial iconography, as an object to be regarded, held and played by the male artist. In Violon et guitare, however, Gris' has made a point of the contrasts in their shapes, and established new gender roles for these instruments: the violin, with a its long, curved neck and scroll like a woman's head in profile, is female, while the simpler, less elegant forms of the guitar suggest a masculine presence-the relatively narrow cylindrical shape of the glass at lower right may even be read as a penile symbol. While such an interpretation may be incidental or at best secondary to Gris' formal concerns, it should be considered that Gris painted this ardent and richly colored canvas in the grip of a passionate love for a new woman in his life, beautiful Josette.
* * *
Gertrude Stein said "Cubism is a purely spanish conception and only spaniards can be cubists and that the only real cubism is that of Picasso and Juan Gris. Picasso created it and Juan Gris permeated it with his clarity and his exaltation" (The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, New York, 1933/1969, p. 91). Apollinaire dubbed Gris "the demon of logic" (L.C. Breunig, ed., Apollinaire on Art, New York, 1972, p. 254). In 1921 Waldemar George stated: "Gris consecrates the triumph of clarity" (quoted in, exh. cat., op. cit., 1992, p. 20). Marcel Duchamp wrote in 1950: "Gris immediately imposed his conception of Cubism on his work. This was rather an explanation of forms than a complication of forms... He pursued this line of expression to the end and methodically polished one of the purest facets of Cubism" (ibid., p. 14). Christopher Green has echoed this enduring characterization of Gris and his work: "Picasso 'creates'; Gris 'clarifies'... Repeatedly, explicitly, his work confronted the mercurial (above all, Picasso) with the methodical" (ibid., p. 20).
Gris had close ties with the second wave of cubist painters--Metzinger, Gleizes, Herbin, Lhote and others, many of whom met in the three Duchamp-Villon brothers' home in the Paris suburb of Puteaux, and contributed to the Section d'Or exhibition in October 1912. As the term "The Golden Section" suggests, they based their cubism on the mathematics of proportion and the poise of logic and clarity. Douglas Cooper categorized their work as "Systematic Cubism," in contrast to the true "Instinctive Cubism"--originally Apollinaire's term--of Picasso and Braque, who thought that mathematical and other conceptual concerns were extraneous and irrelevant to the true cubist spirit. Gris shared many of the interests of the Puteaux group, but made a virtue of these ideas by lifting them to an altogether more compelling level in the intensely felt content and sublime architecture of his paintings, eventually winning grudging respect from Picasso and Braque, and the dedicated support of Kahnweiler. The agreement that Gris signed with his new dealer forbade him from showing in the Salons des Independants and d'Automne, the normal public events for viewing modern art, as was also the situation with Picasso and Braque. It was Kahnweiler's strategy to show his artists' work only in his gallery and select foreign venues, to attract committed and knowledgeable collectors, and to keep them coming back for more. Among the earliest buyers of Gris' paintings were Hermann Rupf, Gertrude Stein, Léonce Rosenberg, Alfred Flechtheim and the American sculptor Michael Brenner. Gris' absence from the commotion and controversy of the public salons only added to his mystique and the desirability of his work.
In her 1927 tribute, The Life and Death of Juan Gris, Gertrude Stein wrote: "As a Spaniard he knew cubism and had stepped through into it. He had stepped through it. There was besides this perfection. To have it shown you." The crystalline clarity, but no less the passion and intensity with which Gris infused his logical method owes much to his Spanishness, a quality which Picasso immediately recognized. There is in Gris' painting that concentration of the artist's gaze that seizes the very real presence of the object, such as one senses in the still-lifes of Francisco Zurbarán and Luis Meléndez (fig. 8), two Spanish masters of 17th and 18th centuries. Mark Rosenthal has written: "To the Spanish he owed his emphasis on the object, that is, shape and how light falls on it; the use of geometry to elevate lowly subjects; the considerable solemnity of portrayal; and from Spanish realism, the powerful foreground lighting and the brooding shadows and blacks" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1984, p. 46).
Gris often executed a carefully composed and meticulously rendered drawing in preparation for a painting, in which the majority of the lines were made with a compass and ruler (fig. 9). He usually destroyed these drawings after the painting had been completed, and near the end of his life he instructed his wife to burn those that remained after his death. For these reasons very few mature cubist drawings by Gris exist today. Fortunately, there is an extent study related to Violon et guitare (Cooper, no. 60A; fig. 11). The absence of color further helps to clarify the Gris' conception of the sectional reiteration of the violin's construction, yielding three forms from one, which Rosenthal has likened to visual rhyming: "Violon et guitare is another of the magisterial statements that mark 1913 as the beginning of Gris's mature art. Here he combines the inherent dignity and poetic quality of the objects with an exploration of their three dimensional aspects. An essentially cruciform composition underlies the whole and lends a hierarchical air; however, as with his use of the golden section, Gris was never absolutely precise in making his measurements fit a pre-determined scheme. The painting is built on a series of pictorial rhymes among the forms of the guitar, violin and glass. Gris's predilection for rhymes, or rhythms based on visual similarities, has been compared to the techniques of the poets who were so much a part of his milieu [Apollinaire, Reverdy and Salmon], but it can also be found in the art of his colleagues. More fundamentally poetic is the spirited flight of artistic manipulation that occurs in the central section, juxtaposed with the conventional world symbolized by the wood molding, wallpaper, and floorboards of a surrounding room. These background details establish a representational setting as well as a pictorial plane of possibilities" (ibid.).
The canvases that Gris painted in Céret represent his transition from analytical to synthetic cubism; Soby has pointed out, "In 1913 Gris, like Picasso and Braque, began to enrich the color and forms of his paintings... There is a new variety in handling, a new emphasis on tonal and textural change, a new absorption in modeling" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1958, p. 22). It were as if Gris stood waiting in the wings, in anticipation of the moment in which his abilities would reveal themselves in the best possible light, and he now received his cue. The synthetic approach in Violon et guitare is symphonic in its conception and overall scope, aiming for a powerful cumulative effect that stems from the interaction of many pictorial elements: the tripartite reconstruction of the violin, the division and subdivision of space within the picture plane, the multiple layering of flattened planes, the representation of wood-grain in both the table-top and nearby sideboard, and the striped and scrolled pattern of wall-paper. Gris was drawing heavily on the use of wood-grain papers and flattened planes he had seen in Braque's and Picasso's papiers collés of late 1912 and early 1913, a technique with which he had begun to experiment before leaving for Céret.
Gris was showing himself to be his own man. Golding has observed that "For Gris, then, synthetic Cubism involved a clearly defined procedure... the composition of a painting was established in purely abstract and often mathematical terms. The subject then emerged from or was superimposed over this framework or substructure of flat colored forms... While Picasso and Braque were moving, largely under the influence of papier collé, towards a flatter, simpler and more decorative kind of painting, Gris' work was becoming increasingly complex and more refined" (op. cit., pp. 115 and 129).
Finally, as the most distinctive element in Gris' conception and practice of pictorial orchestration, there is his remarkable use of color, which both infuses his compositions and emanates from them as a vital, glowing aura. Gris seemed bent on employing the most varied, contrasting chromatic harmonies he could devise, all the while lending a particular and calculated overall character to the tonal ambience of his subject and setting. Such use of color may occasionally be found in the work of some of the Section d'Or painters, but never to such a sophisticated and consistently effective degree, and there was no precedent in the cubist canvases of Braque and Picasso. In fact, it was not until the summer of 1914 in Avignon that Picasso would apply a green as or more brilliant than that seen in the wallpapered background plane in Violon et guitare, and Braque would not indulge in such broadly conceived color harmonies until certain paintings done on the eve of the Second World War. Soby has written:
"By this time Gris has become the original colorist he was to remain throughout the remainder of his short career. Indeed color is one of his inimitable gifts, unpredictable to extreme degree, variable and running the gamut from luxury to terse sobriety. Possibly one reason why Gris' fame lagged behind that of his greatest colleagues in cubism, is the fact that his paintings' qualities are often lost in the black-and-white reproductions which served to spread the fame of Picasso and Braque... his color is unusually elusive and hard to hold accurately in memory, so that only through a careful study of his paintings themselves can one arrive at anything like a fair estimate of his worth" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1958, p. 32).
1914 became the year of Gris' celebrated paintings with papiers collés, another summit in the lengthening range of this artist's manifold achievements. By the winter of 1914-1915, following the outbreak of the First World, Gris had grown tired of making collages, as had Picasso, too, around this time; Rosenthal has pointed out, "the privations of war-torn Europe must have made their reflexive collage games seem out of step with the times" (exh. cat., op. cit., 1983, p. 65). Gris turned again to pure oil painting, and during the war completed elaborate canvases (Cooper, no. 128; fig. 10) whose increasingly abstract elements stem largely from the seminal works he painted at Céret during the halcyon summer of 1913. Cooper has written:
"Through his sincerity and originality, Gris achieved an independent position at the heart of Cubism. Like Braque and Picasso, he combined in his paintings of 1913-1914 an analytical with a synthetic treatment of forms in his recreation of objects. But unlike them, Gris based his compositions on an arrangement of differently colored elements which he referred to as his 'flat, colored architecture.' And he adopted this procedure because, he said, he found it 'more' natural to make subject 'X' coincide with the picture he had in mind than to make picture 'X' coincide with a given subject.' That is to say, Gris began 'with an abstraction in order to arrive at a true fact,' a procedure which gives his early Cubist paintings a characteristic severity but also allowed him to indulge in an exceptional richness of color" (The Cubist Epoch, exh, cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1971, p. 205).
(fig. 1) Juan Gris, Le Violon, Céret, August 1913. Formerly in the Collection Yves Saint Laurent et Pierre Bergé; sold, Christie's Paris, 23 February 2009, lot 25.
Barcode: 2800 0433FIG
(fig. 2) Juan Gris, Le Torero, Céret, August 1913. Formerly in the collection of Ernest Hemingway.
Barcode: 2800 0426 FIG
(fig. 3) Juan Gris, Le Fumeur, Céret, September 1913. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.
Barcode: 2800 0419 FIG
(fig. 4) Juan Gris, Guitare sur une table, Céret, September 1913. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Barcode: 2800 0402 FIG
(fig. 5) Juan Gris, Paysage à Céret, September 1913.
Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
Barcode: 2800 0389 FIG
(fig. 6) Pablo Picasso, Homme à la guitare, Céret, summer 1913. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Barcode: 2800 0372 FIG
(fig. 7) Pablo Picasso, Guitare sheet metal and wire, 1912. The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Barcode: 2800 0136 FIG
(fig. 8) Luis Meléndez, Still-Life with Bread, Bottle and Jug, second half of the 18th century. Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias, Oviedo.
Barcode: 2800 0365 FIG
(fig. 9) Juan Gris, Guitar, pencil drawing, 1913. Collection of Jasper Johns.
Barcode: 2800 0358 FIG
(fig. 10) Juan Gris, Le Violon, pencil drawing, 1913. Private collection.
Barcode: 2800 0310 FIG
(fig. 11) Juan Gris, Livre, pipe et verre, 1915. Sold, Christie's New York, 6 November 2008, lot 7.
Barcode: 2800 0341 FIG