Juan Gris first began to paint in a cubist manner in 1912 and, under the influence of his close friends Picasso and Braque, he quickly progressed through analytical cubism, with its faceted forms and shifting perspectives, to synthetic cubism, using overlapping flat planes of colour and texture.
In this most radical form of the cubist idiom, nature was no longer a necessary starting point. Instead, coloured planes could provide the architecture for imagery that the artist could develop towards something representative. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who was Gris’s close friend and dealer, wrote of the artist’s method: ‘He started with the ensemble, whose rhythm he allowed to develop freely. From this rhythm sprang, in their turn, the objects. A few simple “stimulants” sufficed to make the spectator “see” the desired object. Parallel lines drawn on a white surface changed it into a page of music; lines of type turned it into a newspaper; a flatly drawn ring made it into a plate.’ (Kahnweiler 1969, p.146.) Objects in such works were often no more than signs, which had to be read imaginatively by the spectator in order to be understood.
In Bottle of Rum and Newspaper Gris constructed the image from intersecting angular planes. Many of these have fake wood grain, suggestive perhaps of a wooden table top, though the way they overlap and interlock denies any possibility of recession or perspective. The bottle and the newspaper are indicated with a bare minimum of clues: a few letters, an outline and hint of local colour are sufficient to indicate the identity of the objects. The complexity of the work, however, lies in the suggestion that the overlapping and interpenetrating planes may represent to some degree visual memories of different views onto the objects. Such a painting, Kahnweiler was to insist, was conceptual in the sense that it was to be understood fully only through the use of the spectator’s imagination.
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Juan Gris: His Life and Work, translated by Douglas Cooper, London 1969
Jennifer Mundy, ‘Juan Gris’, in Jennifer Mundy (ed.), Cubism and its Legacy: The Gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London 2004, pp.34-44, reproduced p.37 in colour
Revised by Giorgia Bottinelli
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