Born in Madrid, Gris studied mechanical drawing at the Escuela de Artes y Manufacturas in Madrid from 1902 to 1904, during which time he contributed drawings to local periodicals. From 1904 to 1905, he studied painting with the academic artist José Moreno Carbonero. It was in 1905 that José González adopted the more distinctive name Juan Gris.
In 1906 he moved to Paris and became friends with Henri Matisse, Georges Braque and Fernand Léger. In Paris, Gris followed the lead of another friend and fellow countryman, Pablo Picasso. He submitted darkly humorous illustrations to journals such as Le Rire, L'assiette au beurre, Le Charivari, and Le Cri de Paris.
Gris began to paint seriously in 1911 (when he gave up working as a satirical cartoonist), developing at this time a personal Cubist style. In A Life of Picasso, John Richardson writes that Jean Metzinger's 1911 work, Le goûter (Tea Time), persuaded Juan Gris of the importance of mathematics (numbers) in painting. Gris started painting persistently in 1911 and exhibited for the first time at the 1912 Salon des Indépendants (a painting entitled Hommage à Pablo Picasso).
"He appears with two styles", writes art historian Peter Brooke, "In one of them a grid structure appears that is clearly reminiscent of the Goûter and of Metzinger's later work in 1912." In the other, Brooke continues, "the grid is still present but the lines are not stated and their continuity is broken. Their presence is suggested by the heavy, often triangular, shading of the angles between them... Both styles are distinguished from the work of Picasso and Braque by their clear, rational and measurable quality." Although Gris regarded Picasso as a teacher, Gertrude Stein wrote in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that "Juan Gris was the only person whom Picasso wished away".
In 1912 Gris exhibited at the Galeries Dalmau in Barcelona, the gallery of Der Sturm in Berlin, the Salon de la Societe Normande de Peinture Moderne in Rouen and the Salon de la Section d'Or in Paris. Gris, in that same year, signed a contract that gave D.-H. Kahnweiler exclusive rights to his work.
At first Gris painted in the style of Analytical Cubism, a term he himself later coined, but after 1913 he began his conversion to Synthetic Cubism, of which he became a steadfast interpreter, with extensive use of papier collé or, collage. Unlike Picasso and Braque, whose Cubist works were practically monochromatic, Gris painted with bright harmonious colors in daring, novel combinations in the manner of his friend Matisse. Gris exhibited with the painters of the Puteaux Group in the Salon de la Section d'Or in 1912. His preference for clarity and order influenced the Purist style of Amédée Ozenfant and Charles Edouard Jeanneret (Le Corbusier), and made Gris an important exemplar of the post-war "return to order" movement. In 1915 he was painted by his friend, Amedeo Modigliani.
Designer and theorist
In 1924, he designed ballet sets and costumes for Sergei Diaghilev and the famous Ballets Russes.
Gris articulated most of his aesthetic theories during 1924 and 1925. He delivered his definitive lecture, Des possibilités de la peinture, at the Sorbonne in 1924. Major Gris exhibitions took place at the Galerie Simon in Paris and the Galerie Flechtheim in Berlin in 1923 and at the Galerie Flechtheim in Düsseldorf in 1925.
After October 1925, Gris was frequently ill with bouts of uremia and cardiac problems. He died of renal failure in Boulogne-sur-Seine (Paris) on May 11, 1927, at the age of 40, leaving a wife, Josette, and a son, Georges.