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The Bottle of Anís del Mono

Juan Gris1914

Museo Reina Sofia
Museo Reina Sofia

In this work Juan Gris experiments with the truth and illusion of representation, using elements from daily life within the painting; these elements, in addition to casting doubt on painting's role as an illusionist, introduce references to real situations and linguistic signs within the picture.

This is what happens with the introduction of the physical label of the anisette bottle and the newspaper cutting, fragments that preserve their value as elements of collage, through the presence of the real object in the pictorial representation. Everyday objects in Cubist painting have been interpreted as allegories of the private world of the painter, while the newspapers contain messages about the socio-political context and double meanings, declarations, opinions and specific allusions made by the artist.

In this case, with The Bottle of Anís del Mono, Juan Gris took up a popular theme in Spanish modernism, and as a Spaniard living in France, at the outbreak of World War I, he made use of Cubism to address once again his condition of confused foreigner. What will become of us?, he wrote to Kahnweiler, his art dealer and friend, that very year.

The bottle of Anís del Mono already had a long tradition in the Spanish avant-garde. In 1898, Ramón Casas had won a prize for a poster featuring an anisette bottle and Picasso had painted the bottle with its multiple facets while working in Horta in 1909. Besides these Spanish painters, the Mexican Diego Rivera, who lived in Madrid for some time, painted, around the same time that Gris did, a series of still lifes with a bottle of anisette. The bottle had such a persistent presence that the American writer Gertrude Stein went so far as to say that Cubism arose from artists looking at reality through the prismatic forms carved in the bottle of Anís del Mono. Gris had already experimented with this theme in 1913, in a still life he started and then abandoned on the back of the collage Still Life with Bordeaux Bottle.

On this occasion, Gris cuts out and displaces the label, transforming "Anisado" into "Visado", and he also places the medals of Paris and Madrid face to face with one another, as a symbolic juxtaposition of his city of birth and his city of adoption. The contrast is underlined by the cutting from the newspaper Le Journal, which that day discussed the polemical law on compulsory military service. The segment is cut off in the conjunction "ou" [or], forcing a choice between the two cities. These displacements are used by the painter to refer to his unstable situation as a foreigner in France, especially considering that he had evaded military service in Spain.

Along with this declaration, in this work Gris gives concrete form to the idea that the architectural aspect of painting is based on mathematics. He uses the negative and juxtaposed and inclined planes to create volume, "flat, tilted architectures" as he called them. Gris would comment that, in contrast to Cézanne, he himself did not make a bottle out of a cylinder, but rather a cylinder out of a bottle, thus explaining the basis of a deductive method.

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Details

  • Title: The Bottle of Anís del Mono
  • Creator: Juan Gris
  • Date Created: 1914
  • Style: Cubism
  • Provenance: Bought, 2000
  • Physical Dimensions: w240 x h418 mm
  • Original Title: La bouteille d'anis
  • Additional Viewing Notes: In addition to the usual interpretations of this painting, related to Juan Gris' condition as an expatriate in a country at war, other, recent studies allude to a depiction of the pride felt by the artist, along with that of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. This reading does not exclude the other but rather demonstrates that Cubist collage always contains multiple meanings and is subject to multiple analyses. The role of Juan Gris, given his early death, has been unfairly deemed that of a secondary Cubist, at least one not as important as Picasso or Braque. Today, however, a large part of the new paths that Cubism came to represent are found in the work of Juan Gris, to the point that some of the most decisive pictorial inventions stem from his creations. In this regard, some specialists, such as Christopher Green, have argued that Gris himself intended to represent, in The Bottle of Anís del Mono, a kind of modern heraldic emblem, which would not only place him at the same level as Picasso and Braque, but would also illustrate his awareness of the radicalness of his experimentation. Thus, it comes as no surprise that three cities are represented in the painting, as a metaphor for the new triumvirate: Marseilles, in reference to Braque; Barcelona, Picasso's city of adoption, and Madrid, the city in which Gris was born and raised. In any case, as art theorist Rosalind Krauss has pointed out, these readings prove the true radicalness of Gris and Cubism: playing with the signs of modern life to produce an experience based on multiplicity and the superimposition of meanings.
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil, collage and graphite on canvas

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