Painted in 1926.
Galerie Simon, Paris
Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York (acquired by 1946)
Mr & Mrs Samuel Jaffé, New York (acquired by 1958)
John McConnell, Montreal
Waddington Galleries, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1974
Les Ciseaux is a wonderfully elegant example of Juan Gris' mature works, which are the epitome of his masterful cubist aesthetic and Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler called them 'the crowning achievements of his œuvre' (L'Atelier de Juan Gris, (exhibition catalogue), Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris, 1957). This harmonious composition contains the vital elements of Gris's Cubism, as Norman Rosenthal stated discussing the artist's mature works: 'In a painting by him we find an intensely satisfying, hermetic relationship of pictorial elements, one balanced by the next and then another until the subtlety of resonance reaches an exquisite pitch' (N. Rosenthal, Juan Gris, New York, 1983, p. 3).
Gris cultivated a great deal of highly influential relationships during his career in Paris, including the writer Gertrude Stein who collected his work and described Gris as 'a perfect painter'. In her idiosyncratic style she summed up the artist's final achievements: 'Four years partly illness much perfection and rejoining beauty and perfection and then at the end there came a definite creation of something. This is what is to be measured' (quoted in 'The Life of Juan Gris. The Life and Death of Juan Gris', in Transition, Paris, no. 4, July 1927, pp. 160-162). Indeed Gris himself felt that in the late 1920's his art was moving towards a balance of imagery and ideas, he wrote that: 'Today, at the age of forty, I believe I am approaching a new period of self-expression, of pictorial expression, of picture-language; a well-thought-out and well-blended unity. In short, the synthetic period has followed the analytical one' (quoted in Maurice Raynal, Anthology of Painting in France, From 1906 to the Present Day, Paris, 1927, p. 172).
Les Ciseaux presents a warm, rich palette of vermillion and pastel pinks that contrast with the shadow-defined green tablecloth. The density of the hues seem to consolidate the objects delineated into one picture plane. Paloma Esteban Leal explains the brilliance of Gris's late use of colour: 'As well as a more coherent composition and stronger and clearer fracturing, the paintings that he produced from March 1925 until the end of 1926 reveal a greater formal purity and, more importantly, a use of colour that confirms Gris's indisputable status as a master colourist' (P. Esteban Leal in Juan Gris: Drawings and Paintings 1910-1927 (exhibition catalogue), Museo Naçional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2005, p. 60).
Music and its representative instruments and materials were highly important motifs for the Cubist painters. Braque and Picasso both frequently included stringed instruments in their compositions and Gris found a powerful form of iconography in the violin, as featured in the present work. Discussing the importance of music throughout Gris' œuvre Karin von Maur writes: 'In Gris, the way in which the outlines of the instruments are drawn - in soft curves or in harsh and jagged forms - gives the beat, as it were, to the whole composition... not only rhythmically, but in the actual tonal quality of the colour' (K. von Maur in Juan Gris (exhibition catalogue), Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, 1992, p. 271).
Whilst the instrument sets the tone of the piece and other elegant symbols of cultivation and leisure were frequently used in his still-lifes (fig. 1), in the present work these have unusually been arranged around the central feature: a pair of scissors. While the timeless items of artistic props are appositely included in this painting the scissors are however a crucial metonym for Gris's avant-garde artistic practice. When Picasso and Braque first included pasted paper in their early Synthetic Cubist works (figs. 2 & 3), the effect was startling and Gris was certainly involved in these early instances of collage. By including scissors in the current still-life Gris alludes to the revolutions contained within Cubism and sets the present work amongst the finest of the artist's œuvre.
Fig. 1, Juan Gris, La Table du musicien, 1926, oil on canvas, Museo Nacional Centro de arte Reina Sofia, Madrid
Fig. 2, Pablo Picasso, Pipe, verre, bouteille de Vieux Marc, 1914, papier collé, oil and chalk on canvas, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York
Fig. 3, Juan Gris, Le pacquet de café, 1914, papier collé, gouache and charcoal on canvas, Ulmer Museum, Ulm
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