Before Cubism, all art obeyed the convention of perspective. This was the technique that artists had used since the Renaissance to arrange objects in space. However, perspective only works from one fixed viewpoint and the Cubists believed that it was a limited visualization technique which did not reflect the way that we see the world. Their aim was to develop a new way of seeing which reflected the complexity of the modern age. In Cubist still lifes, artists depict real objects but not from a fixed viewpoint as in perspective. They combine different viewpoints of a subject in the one image. The whole idea of space is rearranged – the front, back and sides of the subject become interchangeable elements. Cubist images combine the artist’s observation with their memory of the subject to create a poetic evocation of the theme, and still life which offers the artist total control of the lighting and composition of the subject, is the genre most suited to the style.
Juan Gris (* 23 March 1887 in Madrid; † 11 May 1927 in Boulogne-sur-Seine, France; real name José Victoriano Carmelo Carlos González-Pérez) was a Spanish painter. Gris incorporated the new design principles of Cubism into a rational system and throughout his career endeavoured to convey his artistic approach theoretically as well. Along with Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, he is the main representative of synthetic cubism. Gris mainly painted still lifes in which he placed pictorial elements next to and on top of each other as a collage. In 1913, the year of Violin and Guitar, Juan Gris had completely assimilated the Cubist principles, through his knowledge of the work of Picasso and Braque and his own research on Cézanne. However, Gris was never an academic Cubist, like so many who went so far as to create a Cubist rulebook without understanding the challenges of the new visual language. Gris elaborates his own, unique vocabulary based on solid, scientific training, on the realist painting tradition and on the poetic and autonomous conception of the picture, creating his own idiosyncratic style.
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Still life was the most popular of the cubist themes as it allowed artists to use everyday objects whose forms were still recognizable after they had been simplified and stylized. Still Life before an Open Window, Place Ravignan is a great example of Gris' cubist style. It contains some of the traditional objects commonly associated with still life: a bowl of fruit, a bottle and a glass, a newspaper and a book, all carefully arranged on a table top at a balcony window. The objects are lit by electric light which contrasts with the moonlit scene outside the window. The subject may have been clichéd and predictable, but its arrangement was revolutionary. Juan Gris was more calculating than any other Cubist painter in the way he composed his pictures. Every element of a painting was considered with classical precision: line, shape, tone, colour and pattern were carefully refined to create an interlocking arrangement free from any unnecessary decoration or detail.