In 1913 Juan Gris began using the technique of papier collé developed by Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, with whom he had been working in close contact since 1911. By 1914 Gris’s handling of the technique was personal and sophisticated, as evidenced by works such as Bottle of Rum and Newspaper, executed in Paris shortly before he left for Collioure at the end of June. Here the pasted elements overlap and intermesh with one another in relationships calculated with mathematical rigor. These collaged papers cover the entire surface of the canvas, simultaneously forming an abstract composition and serving as a multilayered support for naturalistic details.
The dynamism of the picture derives from the tension between horizontals, verticals, and thrusting diagonals. Gris presents the table as if it were viewed from several vantage points at once, demonstrating that a diagonal can be understood as a horizontal perceived from an oblique angle, and also suggesting the movement of the observer or artist around objects. The telescoping of a number of viewpoints in a single image produces the illusion of a spatial dislocation of the objects themselves. Dissected parts of the bottle of rum, recognizable by correspondence of shape or by labeling, float beside, below, or above the drawing of the complete bottle. These paper cutouts, at once more tangible and more fragmented than the shadowy outline, confuse one’s perceptions of the bottle’s presence.
Gris confounds expectations of the nature of materials. He usually depicts the glass objects as transparent and the others as opaque but does not hesitate to betray this faithfulness to the properties of objects when formal demands intercede.