Artwork Detail

Damier et cartes à jouer (Checkerboard and Playing Cards)
Spanish, 1887–1927
Oil on canvas
28 7/8 x 23 3/4 "
University purchase, Kende Sale Fund, 1946
WU 3790
Recently conserved with funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Spanish artist Juan Gris was a leading Cubist painter practicing in France in the early twentieth century. While in the 1900s and 1910s his fellow artists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque pioneered the early Cubist approach of breaking an object down into facets, Gris responded to their practice by focusing on the relationship between multiple perspectival forms and the flat canvas. In this painting items on a café tabletop—a glass, a napkin, playing cards, and a checkerboard—are rendered as flat colored planes that closely overlap. During the mid-1910s, when he executed this work, Gris began his paintings with arbitrarily placed color fields, into which he introduced references to identifiable objects such as the squares on the checkerboard here. In this composition the identity and location of surfaces is difficult to ascertain. The checkerboard and glass appear partially transparent, overlaid onto structures beneath. While playing cards were common subject matter for Cubist artists, Gris, a master of deceptive images and visual puns, may have chosen the attributes of the card shark as an analogy for the Cubist’s visual sleight-of-hand.