Juan Gris

Pierrot with Book


In Tate Modern

Juan Gris 1887–1927
Original title
Le Pierrot au livre
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 655 × 508 mm
frame: 836 × 691 × 70 mm
Bequeathed by Elly Kahnweiler 1991 to form part of the gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, accessioned 1994

Display caption

Although this painting is resolutely figurative, it is strongly influenced by Cubism. Pierrot’s upper body is neatly framed within the architectural framework of the window behind him and the depiction of his face combines a frontal and sideways perspective. The greatly exaggerated hands contrast with the impression of daintiness given by Pierrot’s cupid-bow mouth and the soft pastel hues employed by Gris.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Technique and condition

The painting was executed in oil colours on a single piece of medium-weight and rather open weave linen canvas which is attached to a wooden stretcher with a mixture of steel and copper tacks, neither of which is thought to be original. The stretcher has been keyed out on several occasions, presumably to increase the tension in the canvas as it naturally slackened over the years. At the top right corner there is a slight tear in the canvas which has been previously repaired (locally) with a further piece of linen and a wax/resin adhesive. The canvas is commercially primed with a thin layer of an off-white oil primer, beneath which is probably a thin layer of unpigmented animal glue. This pigmented priming is visible through the paint layers in a few areas, such as above the thumb of Pierrot's right hand and around his buttons.

The paint was applied exclusively by brush in a very fluid manner, often in rather thin and translucent layers, and the open-weave texture of the canvas remains very apparent through much of the painting's surface. The paint may have been diluted for this, which would account for the emergence of a number of minor drying cracks over the painting's surface. Although there are some isolated areas of impasto, principally in the book and the outlines of the main forms, such as around the figure's sleeves, these are not of any real thickness. There are some brushmarks in the book which do not correspond to the final composition, which suggests a slight modification to the composition beneath. The brown painted border was probably the last area to have been painted and the paint used for this appears a slightly thicker paint to the rest. The painting is signed and dated ('24) in the bottom left hand corner.

The painting appears to be varnished, although the present coating is not thought to be original to the work. The wooden frame is gilded with a strip of canvas attached to the front of a flat section. It is not known whether it is original to the work. The painting is in overall fair condition, despite the rather weak and brittle nature of the canvas and the development of several cracks in the paint layers. A combination of previous poor environmental conditions and the frequent re-tensioning of the canvas has resulted in the draw marks which are now seen principally in all four corners. However, the paint is well adhered to the canvas support, and if the painting is now kept under stable conditions the likelihood of further damage should be drastically reduced.

Tom Learner
October 1997

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