Gris created his Siphon et verre in the midst of World War I, just when Cubism was at the high point of its 'synthetic' pictorial reconstruction. No longer satisfied with collage, Gris translated all of his constructive ideas through his draughtsmanship, relying upon convincing pictorial recreations of patterns and texture to convey the assembled appearance of papier collés. Over the course of the 1910s, several artists would attempt to adopt the perspectival and compositional devices that the Cubist founders Braque and Picasso had started using at the end of the first decade, but few would be as highly regarded for their talent and vision as Gris. As a result, Gris was considered one of the leaders of the Cubist movement, along with Picasso, Braque and Léger. Recalling this period and her association with the Cubists, Gertrude Stein identified Gris as an artist of foremost importance among these figures: 'The only real Cubism is that of Picasso and Juan Gris. Picasso created it and Juan Gris permeated it with his clarity and exaltation' (G. Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, New York, 1933, p. 111).
Probably executed in April-May 1916, Siphon et verre is closely related to the oil version Le Siphon (fig. 1), painted in May of that year. Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Gris' dealer and the founder of the Galerie Louise Leiris, provided the following analysis of Gris' particular Cubist style: '[T]he emblems which Juan Gris invented 'signified' the whole of the object which he meant to represent. All the details are not present. The emblems are not comprehensible without previous visual experiences... The picture contains not the forms which have been collected in the visual memory of the painter, but new forms, forms which differ from those of the 'real' objects we meet within the visible world, forms which are truly emblems and which only become objects in the perception of the spectator' (D.-H. Kahnweiler, Juan Gris: His Life and Work, London, 1947, p. 90).
Fig. 1, Juan Gris, Le Siphon (siphon, verre et journal), 1916, oil on canvas, Museum Ludwig, Cologne
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