Juan Gris was born José Victoriano Carmelo Carlos González-Pérez in Madrid on 23 March 1887. He studied mathematics, physics and engineering there from 1902 to 1904, before deciding to became an artist. His teacher was the academic painter José Carbonero, who also taught Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. In 1906 Gris moved to Paris to find work as an illustrator. He could never return to Spain, as he would be imprisoned for failing to perform his military service. He was soon introduced to Picasso, who found him a neighbouring studio in the 'Bateau-lavoir' in Montmartre - where Picasso was working on Les demoiselles d'Avignon, the painting which was to transform modern art.
Gris himself did not join the Cubist movement until 1910, and even then continued his magazine illustrations for several years. In Paris in 1912 he showed fifteen Cubist paintings with Clovis Sagot, and three at the Salon des Indépendants. These led to a contract with Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who also represented Picasso and Georges Braque, the initiators of Cubism. Gris experimented with collage in 1913-14, and then passed through rapid stylistic changes, sometimes every few months. He was extremely poor, as his dealer Kahnweiler was exiled as an enemy national, yet refused to release Gris from his contract. Léonce Rosenberg helped him from 1915, and they signed a contract in 1916.
Gris later responded to the 'call to order', as Jean Cocteau characterised it, which from the last year of the war heralded a move toward classical ideals in culture and neo-classical purity in art. In 1919 he exhibited 50 works at Rosenberg's Galerie de l'Effort Moderne in Paris, but became ill in May 1920. He returned to painting, and in 1922 received his first design commission for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. In the 1920s Kahnweiler again became a supporter of Gris, who illustrated several books under his imprint Éditions de La Galerie Simon. The artist's health declined again from late 1925, and although the illness was never identified, he died of renal failure on 11 May 1927 at Boulougne-sur-Seine, survived by his wife Josette and son Georges González-Gris.