Important Art by Juan Gris
Gris idolized Picasso. A clever tribute to his mentor, his portrait depicts Picasso (founder of Cubism) in the Cubist style. Palette at the ready, Picasso is literally larger than life (taking up most of the space on the canvas). Working primarily in cool hues of blue, gray, and brown, he fractures the sitter's face into a prism of planes and geometric shapes that resolve into the parallel lines in the background. All parts of this picture seem to be in motion. While he and his fellow practitioners produced many more chaotic images, elements of formal portraiture, such as the legibility of the sitter's features, symmetry of the pose, and high-collared jacket (as opposed to a painter's smock), indicate his respect for the subject. It is entirely in keeping with the Cubist mission, however, in its divergence from traditional representation and effort to capture the dynamism of modern life.
Around this time, Gris and other Cubists began incorporating collage elements, such as newspaper and wallpaper, into their paintings. Flowers represents a woman's marble-topped vanity table with a vase of roses, a coffee cup, and the morning paper. A tilting oval mirror reflects wallpaper printed with stylized Art Nouveau orchids. Newspaper and wallpaper (literal scraps of everyday life) force us to consider the subject through the lens of modernity. Gris was particularly fond of rewarding close viewers with hidden messages. Upon close inspection, we glimpse a second coffee cup and pipe camouflaged by the table - evidence that the lady is not alone.
Think of this painting as the masculine compliment to Flowers. Here, a small bistro table with a checked tablecloth almost overflows with an assortment of objects: a bottle of red wine, bunch of grapes, coffee cups, beer bottle, a stout ceramic pot of preserves, coasters, and a French newspaper. Like Flowers, it too contains a hidden message, this time, in reference to his native Spain: a bull's head. The snout is the coffee cup toward the bottom of the canvas, the ear is the bottle of Bass ale to the right, and the "bull's eye" is the black-and-white coaster to the left. It is a poignant reminder that the artist's homeland remained on his mind, though he would never be able to return there. Flagrantly breaking the rules, and combining "low art" (design elements such as the beer bottle logo and newspaper typography) with "high art" (the traditional still life elements), Still Life with Checkered Tablecloth illustrates his brilliance in furthering the goal of Cubism: making something new out of the connections between life and art.