View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms
Bequeathed by Elly Kahnweiler 1991 to form part of the gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler and accessioned 1994
From the winter of 1920 until mid-summer 1921 Gris stayed at Bandol on the French Mediterranean coast. There he made a series of transfer lithographs derived from line drawings. These were published in editions of fifty by the Galerie Simon in Paris, which was run by Gris' dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979). Six lithographs were published in all and Tate owns examples of three of these: Blonde Marcelle (number twenty in the edition of fifty) , The Boy (number thirty-one in the edition of fifty), and Jean the Musician (number forty-six in the edition of fifty).
The Boy is a portrait of the local butcher's eleven year old son, who was Gris' pupil during his stay at Bandol. In a letter to Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler dated 25 February 1921 Gris referred to the line drawing he made of the boy: 'I have drawn a head of my pupil; perhaps I shall make a lithograph of it.' (Gris, p.96.) Subsequent letters reveal that Gris sent the image to Kahnweiler on 19 March. On 22 March, he wrote again to Kahnweiler saying, 'I am very upset because my pupil has gone He was a very intelligent child and very gifted, and he had already begun to understand a lot.' (Gris, p.102.)
Jean the Musician depicts a young man named Jean-Claude Brune. Gris refers to him in a letter of 19 March 1921, describing him as 'a young man from a family which is very important locally - he's the son of a conseiller général of this department he's a good musician and a very intelligent boy who I think would like to own something by myself' (Gris, p.101). In April of that year Jean-Claude Brune visited Kahnweiler in Paris taking Gris' portrait with him.
The identity of Blonde Marcelle is less certain. The art historian Christopher Green believes her to be Marcelle Brune, the cousin of Jean-Claude with whom Gris had an affair during 1921 (see Green, p.137). However, two facts suggest otherwise: firstly the sitter looks considerably older than the woman described by Gris in letters of the time (see Gris, p.107, 123) and, secondly, she bears no physical resemblance to the young woman depicted by Gris in Marcelle La Brune, another lithograph of 1921 (reproduced in Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Juan Gris: His Life and Work, translated by Douglas Cooper, London 1947, p.19).
The concentration on likeness in all three lithographs can be seen as part of a widespread return to realism in France and Italy in the early 1920s. The prevalence of a classicising style at this time reflected the desire of many artists, including Amédée Ozenfant (1886-1966), Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (1887-1965), Gino Severini (1883-1966) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), for a 'return to order' in the arts. This change in style has been understood in terms of a widespread desire for stability and tradition after the disruption and chaos of the First World War. In February 1921, Gris published a statement in the French journal L'Esprit nouveau in which he explained: 'Though in my system I may depart greatly from any form of idealistic or naturalistic art, in practice I cannot break away from the Louvre. Mine is the method of all times, the method used by the old masters: there are technical means and they remain constant.' (Quoted in Kahnweiler, p.138.) The pure, elegant contours and the concentration on systematised and repeated rhythms in the 1921 lithographs particularly suggests the influence of the celebrated French Neo-classical painter, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867).
Christopher Green, Juan Gris, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Gallery, London, 1992 (Blonde Marcelle reproduced p.137)
Juan Gris, Letters of Juan Gris, translated and edited by Douglas Cooper, London 1956
On Classic Ground, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1990, pp.117-23