The Sunblind is a papier collé by Spanish artist Juan Gris produced in 1914. It features a partly closed venetian blind, through which light illuminates a wine glass and casts its shadow onto the surface of a wooden table. Flat planes of black and grey indicate areas of shadow and light playing across the surface of the glass. Light blue and white chalk has been used to highlight further passages of light and shadow down the edges of the blind, the right-hand side of the glass and around the table form. The stem of the glass has been loosely sketched in white chalk to give a sense of form, and the carefully rendered slats of the blind provide a diagonal movement from left to right, which is mirrored by the table. The composition is balanced and framed by dense areas of black charcoal to the centre, sides and bottom of the image. The palette is cool and muted and gives the interior setting a calm, hushed atmosphere. A masthead cut from a real newspaper, Le Socialiste, is pasted to the centre-left of the image, twisting and fragmenting slightly in sympathy with the shape of the glass. An additional piece of what appears to be a collaged newspaper has been pasted along the top of the blind and painted over. The objects are shown from several perspectives: from above and to the side. The raw edges of the canvas are visible on all sides and the artist has signed and dated the work in the lower left corner.
Gris created The Sunblind at Collioure in the Pyrénées-Orientales where he was staying from late June to October 1914, and it was most likely made in the September–October of his stay. The newspaper was local to Collioure and its full title, Le Socialiste des Pyrénées-Orientales, and issue date (13 March 1914) are visible in the masthead pasted into Gris’s collage. As a consequence, this work has also been known as Le Socialiste. Multiple textures play across the surface of the image due to the variety of media used. Some areas of the image, such as the wine glass, are composed of several layers of gouache, charcoal and chalk. A translucent effect has been created by the careful stippling of white and blue chalk over the corners of the table and around the edges of the blind and glass.
The Sunblind belongs to a period of Gris’s most intense production of papiers collés and collages in 1913–14. It features sharply delineated geometric objects, which have been precisely rendered to create a rational, rhythmic composition. The sharp diagonals of the blind itself are precisely echoed by the edges of the table and even the more disruptive shapes of the masthead and blue facet of the glass mirror each other in their angular forms. Gris had studied engineering in Madrid before turning to painting in around 1904, and in 1921 he described his approach to still life subjects as follows: ‘I try to concretise that which is abstract … My art is an art of synthesis … I consider that the architectural side of painting is mathematical, the abstract side, I want to humanise it’ (quoted in Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds.), Art in Theory 1900–2000, Oxford 2003, p.246). The art historian Douglas Cooper has emphasised that unlike contemporaries such as Picasso, Gris did not add decorative elements into his work, tending instead to allow materials such as cut papers ‘to suggest the objective content of the painting’ (Douglas Cooper, The Cubist Epoch, London 1994, p.204). Cooper has argued further that the recurrent motif of ‘a black negative image’ in Gris’s work helped to ‘assert the totality of objects, and also isometric views’ (Cooper 1994, p.204). The density and angularity of the black negative spaces shown in The Sunblind give the objects a solid, formal presence.
The Sunblind was produced when Gris was consolidating his individual practice following his first exhibitions in 1912 and his exclusive signing with art dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. While at Collioure, Gris worked mainly in papier collé and gouache, adopting techniques recently established by cubist colleagues Georges Braque and Picasso. The use of real newspaper fragments in still life arrangements can be seen in other papiers collés by Gris from this period (see, for instance, Breakfast 1914, Museum of Modern Art, New York), and as a synthetic cubist still life The Sunblind bears resemblance to Picasso’s Bottle of Vieux Marc, Glass, Guitar and Newspaper 1913 (Tate T00414).
Douglas Cooper, ‘The Temperament of Juan Gris’, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, new series, vol.29, no.8, April 1971, pp.358–62.
Douglas Cooper (ed.), Juan Gris, Paris 1977, vol.1, reproduced p.183.
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery’s Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.339–40, reproduced p.339.
Supported by Christie’s.