Alongside Picasso and Braque, Gris was instrumental in shepherding the Cubist movement from its early, more muted and prismatic Analytical stage to the Synthetic stage which blossomed from 1913 onward. Works from the Synthetic period would prove livelier and more textural, witnessing the incorporation of new techniques like papier collé and trompe l’oeil patterns including faux bois. At the same time one of Gris’ most recognizable motifs would arise: the guitar (see fig. 1). An intellectual and intentional painter, Gris employed this image less as a concrete symbol than a meditative metaphor, often speaking to his own life experiences. The guitar reappears throughout Gris’ still lifes as an evocation of the artist himself, always presented as a stalwart and dignified character among the trifling hallmarks of café society. Such veneration of form and philosophy also echo the Purism of the late 1910s and the object-painting popularized by Léger in the early 1920s, which in turn would inspire great Pop artists like Lichtenstein and Warhol beginning in the 1950s (see fig. 2).
It was Gris’ lyricism and poetic synthesis of Cubist tenets that attracted the Lausanne-based collector and textile magnate Gottlieb Friedrich Reber to the artist’s work. When Reber started collecting art in the early years of the twentieth century, he first focused on French nineteenth century painting including Impressionism and post-Impressionism. After World War I, however, he turned almost entirely to Cubism, buying directly from dealers such as Kahnweiler, Vollard and Paul Rosenberg, and working with figures who played a pivotal role in promoting avant-garde art such as Paul Cassirer and Alfred Flechtheim. In January 1926 Gris wrote to his friend, the writer Pedro Penzol: "The market for my pictures has entirely changed. Now I sell a great many. A Swiss collector has bought more than thirty of my paintings in the last two months" (quoted in D. Cooper, ed., Letters of Juan Gris, op. cit., p. 177). Among these works acquired in late 1925 was La Table du peintre, completed earlier that year. Reber eventually amassed around two hundred works by the key figures of the Cubist movement—Picasso, Braque, Gris and Léger—and was among major lenders to Picasso’s now-legendary fist retrospective exhibition held in Paris and Zurich in 1932. Many works from Reber’s collection are now housed in museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Hamburger Kunsthalle (see figs. 4 & 5).
In La Table du peintre, the artist's indebtedness to the Old Masters is reflected in the choice of traditional still-life objects, as well as in his endeavor to depict the richness of surfaces and variety of materials (see fig. 3). He paid careful attention to the light and shadow that define the folds in the tablecloth, and to the transparent quality of the glass bottle. The softly curved shape of the guitar and the pipe call to mind the stylized objects of Mannerist painting that Gris would have admired in Parisian museums.
By the time he painted the present oil Gris had attained considerable success: he held well received exhibitions at Kahnweiler’s Galerie Simon in Paris and Alfred Flechtheim’s Düsseldorf gallery, and his works were being acquired by notable collectors such as Alphonse Kann and Gottlieb Reber, who owned La Table du peintre. A placid tableau of artfully balanced hues and objects, the present work displays a coterie of perennial motifs like the palette, book, pipe and sheet of paper joined by the artist’s signature guitar. It demonstrates a refinement in technique, as Gris simplified his subjects and tightened his formal arrangements.
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