Hailed as “the perfect painter” by avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein, Juan Gris developed his signature approach to Cubism beginning in 1911. Using classic café subject matter — such as the newspaper, seltzer bottle, and glass seen here — Gris made subtle adjustments to the conventions of picture making that render ordinary objects both familiar and newly intriguing. For example, in The Checkerboard (1915) and its bird’s-eye view of a tabletop, a cunning reorganization of pictorial space places objects that should have volume into a single compressed plane. With a nod to play, Gris shows us a fragmented checkerboard, an emblem of the strategy and gamesmanship at the center of his art.
Juan Gris (1887 – 1927), a master of disguised images, presents a table brimming with coffee cups, stemmed wineglasses, a large white-footed fruit compote (see from the side and from above) containing thickly painted grapes, a bottle of red wine, a bottle of Bass extra stout ale with its distinctive red diamond logo, a newspaper, and a guitar. Yet, Still Life with Checked Tablecloth (1915) has another equally compelling identity: a Bull’s head. The coffee cup at lower center doubles as the animal’s snout, black-and-white concentric circle at left is a “bull’s eye,” the bottle of ale is an ear, and the sinuous edge of the guitar is the horn. The letters “EAU” on the wine label, which ostensibly stand for “bEAUjolais” can just as easily represent “taurEAU” (Bull).
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC
In 1922, upon discovering the cubist paintings of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Juan Gris in the window of a Paris gallery, Gerald Murphy told his wife, “If this is painting, then this is what I want to do.” Soon after, he ended his career as landscape architect and turned to painting.
In Wasp and Pear (1929), Murphy combined an abstract background with an anatomically detailed but highly stylized wasp, pear, leaf and honeycomb. The artist credited “the large technically drawn and colored charts of fruits, vegetables…[and] insects” in a classroom where he has studied during his military training as his inspiration.
Gerald Murphy (1888 – 1964) painted only fourteen known works, seven of which remain.