Juan Gris

“I always paint a dog with my left hand because if he bit me I’d still have my right hand to paint with.”


About Juan Gris

José Victoriano Carmelo Carlos González-Pérez was born in Madrid, Spain, in 1887. He later changed his name to Juan Gris, which is much easier to remember! Juan’s father was a merchant named Gregorio Gonzáles y Rodríguez. His mother’s name was Isabel Pérez Brasategui. They had a big family. In addition to Juan, they had thirteen other children!

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When Juan was a teenager, he went to the School of Art and Industries where he learned about math, science, engineering, and mechanical drawing. Mechanical drawings are drawings that show how things work or how they are supposed to be built. Although Juan was interested in the subjects he was learning at school, he soon realized he loved art too. He spent a year taking painting lessons with the artist José Maria Carbonero. He also started making drawings for books and magazines. Some of these were caricatures. Caricatures are funny pictures that often represent a person whose face or body has been exaggerated in some way.
Juan didn’t think the art people were making in Madrid was very interesting. So at the age of eighteen, he packed up his bags and moved to Paris to see what artists there were doing. He also wanted to get away from a war that was happening in Spain. Unfortunately, because Juan didn’t want to fight in the war, he wasn’t ever allowed to go back to the country where he was born.
In Paris, Juan made friends with a bunch of other artists, writers, and thinkers. One of his friends was Pablo Picasso, who was also his neighbor. Picasso and another artist named Georges Braque were working on making a new kind of art called Cubism. It wasn’t long before Juan was making Cubist art in his own style. Because he liked math so much, Juan was very careful about the way he arranged the different parts of his pictures. His paintings seemed so neat and orderly that one writer nicknamed him the “Demon of Logic.” But Juan’s paintings were also very bright and colorful, and the patterns in them made them seem full of movement. Although you can’t always tell at first, Juan’s paintings always represent people, landscapes, or objects. Fruit, musical instruments, papers, and glasses were some of his favorite still life subjects.
Juan was very smart and he worked very hard on his art. In addition to paintings, Juan also made collages, works of art that are made by attaching different objects or materials (like paper or cloth) to a surface. He even designed costumes and stage sets for a special dance company called the Ballet Russes. But Juan also liked to have fun! Sonia Delaunay, another artist who knew him, once said that he spent so much time at one of their favorite gathering spots that she didn’t know how he had energy left to work. But somehow he did. Juan died when he was just forty years old, but he certainly left his mark!

Licensed Images Information

Portrait of Pablo Picasso, 1912 | Oil on canvas | 36 3/4 x 29 5/16 inches | Art Institute of Chicago
Landscape with Houses at Ceret, 1913 | Oil on canvas | 39 1/3 x 25 ½ inches | Galeria Theo, Madrid
Still Life before an Open Window, Place Ravignan, 1915 | Oil on canvas | 45 ½ x 35 inches | Philadelphia Museum of Art
Portrait of Josette Gris, 1916 | Oil on panel | 45 5/8 x 28 ¾ inches | Museo del Prado, Madrid
Breakfast, 1914 | Gouache, oil, and crayon on cut-and-pasted printed paper on canvas with oil and crayon | 31 7/8 x 23 ½ inches | Museum of Modern Art, NYC


Juan Gris was a leading Cubist artist. Some Cubist art is interested in finding ways to show people or objects from different points of view at the same time. For example, when you look at a face straight on, you can’t see the inside of someone’s ear. But a Cubist painting might show you the whole face and the inside of the ear at the same time! In this kind of Cubism, the artist usually looks at something real and then tries to break it down into parts, like pieces of a puzzle. In other kinds of Cubism, the artist starts with shapes and builds them up into pictures of recognizable things. In Cubist art, it is usually difficult to separate the background from the foreground or the objects from the space around them. Some artists are concerned with trying to present an illusion of space. They create pictures of roads that make you think you could enter the picture or glasses that seem so real, you want to pick them up. These artists try to hide the fact that they are painting on a flat surface. But not Cubists. Cubists want you to see objects in their pictures, but they also want to remind you that their pictures are objects too!

Activities and Questions

  • Cut out a bunch of different shapes from cardboard. Now try to arrange them to make a picture of a person or object.
  • Make a collage using paint, newspaper, magazines, old greeting cards and odds and ends you find around the house.
  • Ask someone to be your model. Make a picture that shows them from the front, side, and back all at the same time!
  • Draw a picture of something. Cut the picture up into different pieces. Now put them back together to make a new picture.
  • Sit in front of a landscape. Try to make a picture of the landscape that looks like it has depth, in other words, a landscape that looks like someone could step into it. Now draw another picture of the landscape that looks totally flat.
  • Juan Gris learned Cubism from Picasso, but then he put his own spin on it and developed his own style. How do you express yourself? Do you have a “style”?
  • Early cubist artists often tried to show their subjects from more than one point of view. Why do you think they wanted to do that? What effect does it have in their art? Do you like it? Why or why not?