Gris was a Spaniard, born in Madrid with the name José Victoriano Gonzáles Perez. He moved to Paris in 1909 and died there of kidney failure at the early age of forty, having evolved a style that was based on the Cubism developed by Pablo Picasso, another Spaniard living in Paris, and his associate the Frenchman Georges Braque.
Their American friend the writer Gertrude Stein said of Gris: “he was very melancholy and effusive and always clear sighted and intellectual.” She also said, “as a mystic it was necessary for him to be exact… Picasso … by nature the most endowed had less clarity of intellectual purpose.”
It’s interesting that several of the most important early abstractionists were preoccupied with matters spiritual. The Dutchman Piet Mondrian was interested in Theosophy, the Englishman Ben Nicholson became a Christian Scientist. Gris was, as Stein calls him, ‘a mystic’, and it seems, in retrospect, that abstraction must coexist with a need to penetrate worlds beyond the physical and material. (Picasso, a confirmed materialist, hardly ever painted a true abstraction.)