At the very end of June, 1914, as if washed up by the outermost ripple of the tidal wave that had broken over Central Europe a few hours before, Josette and Juan Gris stepped off the southbound train at Rivesaltes, not far from the Catalan border. Josette was French, from Touraine; Juan (known to everyone as “Jean”) was Spanish by birth and French in culture, though virtually stateless since he had evaded the Spanish draft some eight years earlier. She was dark and pretty, with the saucy lucent eyes of a midinette in an old Parisian movie. He had the sensual features and color of a Creole, and a brooding, self-chastised expression.

To the vacationing eye Rivesaltes soon showed itself “a barbarous place with no trees,” as Jean noted on the back of a postcard to his friend, the picture-dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. So the couple “fled by the first train” to...


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