Mobilization in the rear: Juan Gris and the "return to order"

Mobilization in the rear: Juan Gris and the

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Home ›Studies› Mobilization in the rear: Juan Gris and the “return to order”

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Title: The Tourangeau.

Author : GRAY Juan (1887 - 1927)

Creation date : 1918

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 100 - Width 65

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas.

Storage place: National Museum of Modern Art - Center Pompidou website

Contact copyright: © Photo CNAC / MNAM Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - © All rights reserved

Picture reference: 49-000737 / AM3976P

© Photo CNAC / MNAM Dist. RMN-Grand Palais - All rights reserved

Publication date: July 2007


Mobilization in the rear: Juan Gris and the "return to order"


Historical context

Mobilization at the rear

After the heightened nationalism and patriotism which expressed their ideological support for the war against Germany, the stagnation of the conflict led the civilian populations to give another form to the war effort. The "Sacred Union", in order to oppose a common front against the enemy, had to be more than a state of mind and be expressed in action. Each had to firmly support the multiple restrictions, help the hairy and work for the victory of France by producing food, military equipment or by providing intellectual support to the cause of France.
In their own way, the artists also showed their commitment: the revolt, the artistic subversion which characterized the avant-garde at the beginning of the 20th century, gave way to a desire for classicism, a return to the French tradition in subjects and forms. stylistic.
Thus Juan Gris, established in Touraine in the native village of his wife Josette during part of the war, he modified his way of painting and his iconography in this direction. Works like Woman with mandolin according to Corot, The Miller or The Tourangeau testify to this change of direction.

Image Analysis

New sobriety and stability

The Tourangeau represents a man seated at a table in an interior in front of a newspaper, a glass, a bottle of wine and a pipe. By its sobriety, this work contrasts greatly with the paintings and collages made by Juan Gris before the war: the composition is simple, limited to a figure and a few objects arranged in two clearly differentiated planes; the shapes are geometrically simplified and clearly delimited by the colored areas; the colors are reduced to a shades of black and gray enhanced by a few areas of blue, white and brown. The paintings of 1912-1914 appear, in comparison, much more complex with their rich and vibrant color, their fuller subjects and their formal fragmentation. Planes and objects overlap with the action of horizontal, vertical or oblique lines that penetrate the objects and deform them.
In The Tourangeau, on the contrary, the shapes, full and closed, are easily readable; stable and heavy, they are well anchored in the figuration, aligned on verticals or obliques that connect them to each other, such as the line following the edge of the door and joining the bottle or the diagonal of the newspaper which continues in the buttons and ends in the doorway. Visual rhymes consolidate this structural cohesion and reinforce the unity of the work: the dot pattern, for example, is repeated in the canvas. The reiteration of forms at right angles, while participating in this harmonization, also strengthens the composition.

The iconography itself is unprecedented for Juan Gris: the representation of peasants is particular to this period of his work. Because no feature allows to individualize the character, this painting seems less of a model than the archetype of the peasant of Touraine. This impression is accentuated by the colors borrowed from the chromatic combinations of the traditional architecture of the region: the gray of the slate, the brown of the tiles, the light gray and the ocher of the walls… The very choice of these colored accords emphasizes the search for permanence and stability in the work: Gris thus suggests an equivalence with the constructions of Touraine, with the perennial surfaces visible around him.


[Interpretation] Expressing one's commitment by plastic means

This change in style and iconography is particularly representative of the ideology that permeated French society during the 1914-1918 war: it idealized a more or less close past where the values ​​of grandeur and permanence were illustrated exactly. , of stability that this period of rupture, uncertainty and difficulty deprived her of.

The clarity and balance sought in this canvas refers to the classical pictorial tradition, while the archetypal figure of the peasant continues this reference to the past by signifying the eternal, the constant. More particularly, the earthworker, associated with a certain timelessness, thus presents himself as an image of quiet strength, solidity, so many notions translated by the signs of physical strength of the character - broad hands, dense body -, the firm rendering of the forms and the very structured composition. The peasant can also be seen as a metaphor for the native land for which the soldiers fight and a reminder of the overrepresentation of this population among the hairy.

This emphasis on the French past and this adherence to the values ​​put forward by the "Sacred Union" were for Gris a way of showing his commitment to France. His situation as a foreigner and as a non-mobilized man was indeed very delicate in these times of heightened patriotism. This change of direction was for him a means, conscious or unconscious, of participating in the war effort.

  • cubism
  • War of 14-18
  • wine
  • engaged art
  • Artistic current


Stéphane AUDOIN-ROUZEAU and Annette BECKER, 14-18, return to war, Paris, Gallimard, 2000.Nicolas CENDO and Véronique SERRANO (dir.), Juan Gris, paintings and drawings, 1887-1927, catalog of the exhibition of the Cantini museum in Marseille, September 17, 1998 - January 3, 1999, Marseille-Paris, Museums of Marseille-R.M.N., 1998. Christopher GREEN, Juan Gris, exhibition catalog of the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, September 18-November 29, 1992, London-New Haven, Yale University Press, 1992. Kenneth E. SILVER, Towards a return to order. The Parisian avant-garde and the First World War, 1914-1925, Paris, Flammarion, 1991.

To cite this article

Claire LE THOMAS, "Mobilization in the rear: Juan Gris and the" return to order ""

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