One hundred and sixty six

Still Life with Flowers

1912 by Juan Gris
MoMA, NYC

Gris’s part in the Parisian school of Cubism is obvious, from the style, approach and composition of his works. However he differs from Picasso, Braque and the others, providing a variation in the their many, often similar, compositions. His lines are crisper, and the colour, even in this relatively early piece, is brighter, more adventurous, unlike the muddy browns and greens favoured by the others (see postcard 115). Gris’s greens are olive brightening to yellow, brown intensified with burnt orange; his painterly approach is varied, dappled Impressionism at the top of the painting and bold flat colour in the L shape of red. Electric blue ignites the composition dynamically in vivid cones of tonal contrast, multiplying across the canvas, leaking colour into the various fragments of the painting. However here shape possesses none of Braque or Picasso’s painterly subtlety; fragments are clearly defined, split by crisp lines and deep colour juxtaposed by bright highlights. Gris’s work has a dynamism, a metallic quality that identifies it with the Italian Futurists. With this in mind, it is interesting to consider that this composition takes natural inspiration as part of its subject, rarely did the Cubists or Futurists take flowers to form part of their fragmented world. Though Gris’s guitar (harkening back to Picasso’s violin) is clearly present, flowers form the most interesting part of the composition, in their miniature half-moons that cascade out of one another like visible movement. Gris captures the abundance, the amount and the agitation of a bunch of flowers, manipulating the Modernist approach for a subject that possesses an initial multiplication all on its own, that of natural and organic repetition.

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