Painting of the Day

1 Dec


The Card Players (Les joueurs de cartes). By Paul Cezanne (1839-1906). Oil on canvas, 1890-1892. Currently on view at the Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia.

Paraphrased notes from the book Great French Paintings from the Barnes Foundation:

Cezanne created five versions of The Card Players, and the one owned by the Barnes is the largest and “by far the most heroic.” For models, Cezanne used farm hands that worked for his father on the outskirts of Aix.

This painting is one of Cezanne’s most ambitious canvases, “second only to the three versions of female bathers that he would do near the end of his life.” Cezanne did numerous studies of single players standing or smoking which he then incorporated into the whole composition.

Even though the painting contains five human figures, it really isn’t a group portait, and the figures rather serve a “greater formal and expressive end. The five figures pose in a shallow stage of space, its perimeters precisely established by the chair on the left (which connects just with the picture edge); the green-glazed olive jar [in the upper left corner]; the truncated, framed picture in the center; and the unadjusted perspective of the kitchen table. The three players are painted with great amplitude, the stern folds of their bulky clothes amplified by their broadly sloping shoulders and ham-fisted hands. The standing smoker is less fully realized in space, his blue peasant’s smock engaging more with the colors of the wall than anything else in the space except the similar garment worn by the player on the right; this blue, however, is boldly set off against the golden drape. The volumetric weight and psychological degree of participation of the passively watching figure are in pointed contrast to the simple and beautiful geometry of the child’s oval face as she sits, peering over her father’s (?) shoulder watching the progress of the game. The central player’s “V’ed” legs, seen under the table, converge just at the bottom of the painting, anchoring him and the whole group with a particular solidity. For all its gravity, the paint is applied with a deliberate evenness, in open strokes that give the whole a textural unity rare in Cezanne’s work.

One Response to “Painting of the Day”

  1. tara December 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    Cezanne painted this theme a few times, I believe, but i think this is the most balanced version. The others didn’t include the little boy (a vampirish looking kid) and infact Cezanne actualy went back and added this boy after he watched Twilight……

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