Paul Cézanne - The Card Players 1892

The Card Players 1892
The Card Players
1892 60x73cm oil/canvas
Courtauld Institute of Art, London

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From Courtauld Institute of Art, London:
Paul Cézanne’s famous paintings of peasant card players and pipe smokers have long been considered to be among his most iconic and powerful works.
The first mention of the Card Players series comes in 1891 when the writer Paul Alexis visited Cézanne’s studio in Aix-en-Provence and found the artist painting a local peasant from the farm on his estate, the Jas de Bouffan. A number of different farm workers came to sit for him over the years, often smoking their clay pipes. They included an old gardener known as le père Alexandre and Paulin Paulet, who posed for the three pesant portraits, a task for which he was paid five francs.
Cézanne’s depictions of card players would prove to be one of his most ambitious projects and occupied him for several years. It resulted in five closely related canvases of different sizes showing men seated at a rustic table playing cards, including versions from The Courtauld Gallery, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Musée d’Orsay. Alongside these he produced a larger number of paintings of the individual farm workers who appear in the Card Players compositions, major examples of which are reunited from the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, together with The Courtauld’s Man with a Pipe.
Cézanne devoted himself to his peasant card players, often repeating his compositions, striving to express the essence of these sun-beaten farm workers whom he found so compelling. Rather than posing his models as a group playing cards, Cézanne made studies of them individually and only brought them together as opponents on the canvas itself. For him, the local peasants of Aix were the human equivalent of his beloved Montaigne Sainte-Victoire that presided over the town – steadfast, unchanging and monumental. As he later put it, “I love above all else the appearance of people who have grown old without breaking with old customs”.
Cézanne’s card players are not shown as rowdy drinkers and gamblers in the way that, for centuries, peasants had been depicted in rural genre paintings. Rather, they are stoical and completely absorbed in the time-honoured ritual of their game. As the famous English critic Roger Fry wrote in 1927: “It is hard to think of any design since those of the great Italian Primitives… which gives us so extraordinary a sense of monumental gravity and resistance – of something that has found its centre and can never be moved.”
The monumentality of the works epitomises Cézanne’s stated aim to produce “something solid and durable, like the art of the museums”. Appropriately, one of the first works by Cézanne to enter a museum collection was The Card Players, which was accepted by the Louvre in 1911, five years after the artist’s death.