Juan Gris, Le joueur de guitare (Arlequin à la guitare), 1918,
Oil on canvas, 100 x 65 cm
The figure at the centre of this painting is so disjointed, that the geometric and nearly monochrome fields of colour could on first glance almost be a picture puzzle. The Cubist painter Juan Gris didn't intend his 1918 artwork “The Guitar Player” or “Harlequin with a Guitar” to be an easily recognizable figurative portrayal. Instead, he analysed the centuries-old motif of the harlequin, the jester and servant character from the Commedia dell'Arte, subjecting it to the Cubist stylistic device of breaking it up like a prism.
Gris had come to Paris in 1906 and initially followed the lead of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, the founders of Cubist painting. Watteau, Cézanne and Matisse were also role models for Gris. It was not only their influence but also his own strongly analytical and mathematical approach that enabled him to develop his own kind of Cubism. Instead of producing pictures that were derived from perceiving real objects, Gris devoted himself to the depiction of timeless forms and figures.
In 1925 Gris looked back at his early career: “Cubism? I think that initially Cubism was an analysis that had no more to do with painting than the description of physical phenomena has with physics. But since the technique of painting has presented a means of gauging all the elements of the so-called Cubist aesthetic, that reproach can no longer be made.”