In 1943, the Encyclopedia Britannica started to commission American artists to illustrate articles in the various versions of their books. When they saw the results, they changed their plan, and began to build a collection of contemporary art that best represented America. They sent the works around the country on an extensive exhibition tour, and then in 1949 decided to dissolve the collection.
The Encyclopedia’s chief executive, William Benton, was friendly with the University of Rochester’s president, Alan Valentine, and as a happy result, the University was given first choice of the pieces. Valentine, in consultation with Gertrude Herdle Moore, then the director at MAG, chose a group of works, and a purchase arrangement was hammered out. The Memorial Art Gallery bought fourteen works from the Encyclopedia Britannica collection, now some of the most important and iconic works in American art history.