Juan Gris


This drawing is a study for a detail of Man in the Café, a large painting in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The dislocation and fragmentation of the face into geometric planes are typical of Gris’s Cubism, which differs from that of Braque and Picasso through its greater emphasis on structure. The cerebral method is relieved here by comical overtones reminiscent of the caricatures Gris used to draw for a living earlier in his career.

Juan Gris
Spanish; 1887–1927
Man with Opera Hat, 1912
Black fabricated chalk on laid paper


I am Isabelle Dervaux, Acquavella Curator of Modern and Contemporary Drawings. This is the exhibition Drawn to Greatness: Master Drawings from the Thaw Collection.

This drawing by a Spanish artist Juan Gris is a superb example of Cubism, a movement launched by Braque and Picasso in Paris in 1907. Gris, who had moved from Madrid to Paris in 1906 and who was a close friend of his compatriot Picasso, embraced the style a few years later.

The fragmentation and decomposition of the head in this drawing are typical of the Cubist approach, which rejects conventional use of perspective and modeling in the depiction of the real world. Instead, objects are seen from several angles at the same time.

Here, for instance, one ear is frontal, while the other is in profile. The hat is at once rectangular and circular to evoke its cylindrical shape. The superposition of different planes builds the figure in space, suggesting its volume without recourse to traditional perspective.

This drawing is a study for a painting or more precisely for a detail of a painting that represents a man seated at a table in a cafe. In the painting, the head of the man is the part that presents the most complex fragmentation, which explains that Gris worked it out first in preparatory studies.

In fact, the drawing is particularly interesting because it shows the difficulties Gris encountered in composing the image. In the lower half, you can see many traces of erasures, which reveal the intensive process of trial and error that the artist went through to create the figure.

Gris's Cubism differs from that of Braque and Picasso through a greater emphasis on structure, yet despite the cerebral aspect of his method there is a certain humor in the drawing. The distortions of the face, for instance, have a comical effect, which reminds us that for many years before he was able to sell his paintings, Gris had been earning his living by making caricatures for satirical magazines.