Gris' dynamic oil composition, Verre et carte à jouer, displays all the elements of a great synthetic Cubist picture. Gris composes his picture using overlapping color planes, sand, painted elements of text, faux bois patterning, and the trompe l'oeil effect of framing the composition within the picture. The resulting image presents a jumble color and shapes that mimic the croupier's shuffling of a deck of cards. Of his pictures from 1915, Daniel Henry Kahnweiler observed, "Hitherto his pictures had been absolutely static. But during the summer of 1915 he produced pictures which are full of movement." (p. 126).
Gris created his Verre et carte à jouer in the midst of World War I, just when Cubism was at the high point of its 'synthetic' pictorial reconstruction. No longer satisfied with collage, Gris translated all of his constructive ideas solely in oil, relying upon convincing pictorial recreations of patterns and texture to convey the assembled appearance of papier collés. Over the course of the 1910s, several artists would attempt to adopt the perspectival and compositional devices that the Cubist founders Braque and Picasso had started using at the end of the first decade, but few would be as highly regarded for their talent and vision as Gris. As a result, Gris was considered one of the leaders of the Cubist movement, along with Picasso, Braque and Léger. Recalling this period and her association with the Cubists, Gertrude Stein identified Gris as an artist of foremost importance among these cultural figures: "The only real Cubism is that of Picasso and Juan Gris. Picasso created it and Juan Gris permeated it with his clarity and exaltation" (Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, New York, 1933, p. 111).
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Gris' dealer who was once in possession of this painting, provided the following analysis of Gris' particular Cubist style: "... [T]he emblems which Juan Gris invented 'signified' the whole of the object which he meant to represent. All the details are not present. The emblems are not comprehensible without previous visual experiences. . . The picture contains not the forms which have been collected in the visual memory of the painter, but new forms, forms which differ from those of the 'real' objects we meet within the visible world, forms which are truly emblems and which only become objects in the perception of the spectator" (Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Juan Gris: His Life and Work, London, 1947, p. 90).
Oil and sand on canvas
New York, Bucholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), Juan Gris, 1950, no.6, illustrated in the catalogue
18 1/8 by 13 in. 46 by 33 cm
Christian Zervos, Cahiers d'Art, Paris, 1951, illustrated p. 120
G. Nuno & J. Antonio, Juan Gris, Barcelona, 1974, no. 310, illustrated p. 214
Douglas Cooper, Juan Gris, vol. I, Paris, 1977, no. 143, illustrated p. 217
Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Paris
Buchholz Gallery (Curt Valentin), New York (by 1950)
Katharine & Morton G. Schamberg, Chicago (by 1955, thence by descent and sold: Christie's, November 1, 2005, lot 26)
Acquired at the above sale