A lovely showcase of the cubist master’s work
The book simply entitled Juan Gris by Spanish art historian Juan Antonio Gaya Nuño was published in 1986 by a Spanish publisher, Ediciones Polígrafa, but they also published an English-language edition. The book opens with 25 pages of nothing but text, set so densely that it is painful to the eyes. Beyond that, however, the remaining hundred pages are filled with reproductions of Gris’s work. The text by Gaya Nuño presents an informative biography of the artist. It is unlikely that Gaya Nuño ever met Gris, who died young, but the historian did interview some of the artist’s contemporaries and friends in his research for this essay. Written from a Spanish perspective, the text contemplates and emphasizes Gris’s Spanishness and to what extent he expressed the national spirit of his homeland in his works. Gaya Nuño’s assessment of Gris’s relationship to Picasso is somewhat surprising. According to this account, Gris looked up to Picasso as a mentor and idol, but Picasso looked down on Gris and resented any critical acclaim the younger artist received.
While the text is educational, the main attraction here is the images. The book reproduces 166 of Gris’s artworks. About three-quarters of them are printed in color, and many occupy a full page. The photographs of the artworks would have been supplied by the individual museums that held them, so the quality of the photographs varies in terms of lighting and clarity of focus, but on the whole the images are reproduced beautifully. They are presented in chronological order, even starting with several examples of Gris’s day-job work as a graphic artist and illustrator. Some of his theatrical designs for stage sets and costumes appear towards the end of the book. Over the course of this retrospective, one can see Gris’s style develop from an analytical cubism based on the ideas of Picasso and Braque to a more idiosyncratic synthetic cubism later in his career. From the very beginning, however, Gris’s work exhibits a lyricism, experimentation, and playfulness that distinguishes him from his cubist contemporaries.
I know of two other fine illustrated books that have been published on Gris. Christopher Green’s book entitled Juan Gris was published in 1992 by Yale University Press. James Thrall Soby’s 1958 book, also entitled Juan Gris, was published by the Museum of Modern Art. You can find a digitized version of the latter book on the MOMA website. The Green book is much stronger on text, with lots of biographical content and analysis and criticism of Gris’s work. If you want a thorough scholarly overview of Gris’s career, Green’s is probably your book. Soby’s book is similar in size and number of photographs to Gaya Nuño’s, but, being printed in 1958, more of the pictures are in black and white. If you’re a fan of Gris’s work, you really can’t go wrong with any one of these three. Gaya Nuño’s book, however, may be the best illustrated of the three.
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