Alfred H. Barr, Jr. (1902–1981), founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, owned Gris's small gouache Checkerboard and Playing Cards (1915) for more than thirty years. Barr bought the Gris in 1948 during a difficult period of transition in his career. On October 13, 1943, Stephen C. Clark, the president of MoMA and chairman of the board of trustees, fired Barr from his position as director. Barr's tenure had been marked by ongoing disputes with trustees over business decisions, acquisitions, and the content of exhibitions, with certain trustees being known to remove works they did not like from the galleries after Barr's installation. After stepping down as director, Barr was offered the post of advisory director, with no administrative or curatorial responsibilities, allowing him, the trustees suggested, to focus on his writing.
In 1946 Barr published Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art, which he submitted to Harvard as his doctoral dissertation, twenty-two years after his initial enrollment in the graduate program. In 1947, Barr was given the freedom to build MoMA's permanent collection, a position he held until his retirement twenty years later. Barr purchased Gris's Checkerboard and Playing Cards for his own collection from Ray Slater Murphy, a collector and MoMA patron who had lent a sketch by Picasso to Barr's 1939 retrospective of the artist. Barr lent Checkerboard and Playing Cards to the 1958 Juan Gris retrospective at MoMA, which also traveled to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum. The exhibition served a major role in raising Gris's profile in the United States.
For more information, see
Barr, Alfred H., Jr. Cubism and Abstract Art. Exh. cat. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936.
Barr, Alfred H., Jr.Picasso: Fifty Years of His Art. Exh. cat. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1946.
Soby, James Thrall. Juan Gris. Exh. cat. Museum of Modern Art, New York; Minneapolis Institute of Arts; San Francisco Museum of Art; and Los Angeles County Museum. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1958.
Stark, Trevor. “Index of Historic Collectors and Dealers of Cubism: Barr, Alfred Hamilton, Jr.” In Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/research/leonard-lauder-research-center/programs-and-resources/index-of-cubist-art-collectors/barr (January 2015)