Cézanne’s Card Players

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. This landmark exhibition, organised by The Courtauld Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, will be the first to focus on this group of masterpieces. Described by Cézanne’s early biographer, Gustav Coquiot, as being “equal to the most beautiful works of art in the world”, this will be a unique opportunity to enjoy these remarkable paintings in unprecedented depth. The exhibition will bring together the most comprehensive group of these works ever staged, including three of the card player paintings, five of the most outstanding peasant portraits and the majority of the exquisite preparatory drawings, watercolours and oil studies.
The first mention of the card player 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 during these years, often smoking their clay pipes. They included an old gardener known as le père Alexandre and Paulin Paulet, who posed as the figure seated on the left in The Card Players, 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 the men seated at a rustic table playing cards, including versions from The Courtauld Gallery, the Metropolitan Museumand the Musée d’Orsay. Alongside these he produced a larger number of paintings of the individual farm workers who appear in the card player compositions, major examples of which will be 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.

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