Art Sunday #119: Paul Cezanne – The Card Players


The Card Players is a series of oil paintings by the French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne. Painted during Cézanne’s final period in the early 1890s, there are five paintings in the series. The versions vary in size, the number of players, and the setting in which the game takes place. Cézanne also completed numerous drawings and studies in preparation for The Card Players series. One version of The Card Players was sold in 2011 to the Royal Family of Qatar for a price variously estimated at between $250 million and $300 million, making it the third most expensive work of art ever sold.


The largest version, painted between the years 1890–1892, is the most complex, with five figures on a 134.6 x 180.3 cm (53 × 71 in) canvas. It features three card players at the forefront, seated in a semi-circle at a table, with two spectators behind. On the right side of the painting, seated behind the second man and to the right of the third, is a boy, eyes cast downward, also a fixed spectator of the game. Further back, on the left side between the first and second player is a man standing, back to the wall, smoking a pipe and presumably awaiting his turn at the table. It has been speculated Cézanne added the standing man to provide depth to the painting, as well as to draw the eye to the upper portion of the canvas.  As with the other versions, it displays a suppressed storytelling of peasant men in loose-fitting garments with natural poses focused entirely on their game.


A more condensed version of this painting with four figures, long thought to be the second version of The Card Players, is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. At 65.4 x 81.9 cm (25 3/4 x 32 1/4 in), it is less than half the size of the Barnes painting. Here the composition remains virtually the same, minus the boy, with viewers’ perspective slightly closer to the game, but with less space between the figures. In the previous painting, the center player as well as the boy were hatless, whereas this version has all the men hatted. Also gone are the shelf to the left with vase and lower half of a picture frame in the center of the wall, leaving only the four pipes and hanging cloth to join the smoking man behind the card players.



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