15 Things You Should Know About Cézanne's The Card Players

French master Paul Cézanne's works have been credited with bridging the gap between 19th century Impressionism and 20th century Cubism. But his finest accomplishment might well be The Card Players, which continues to fascinate art lovers and set records.

1. The Card Players is not one painting, but five.  

Created between 1890 and 1895, this quintet of oil paintings is considered a cornerstone of Cézanne's "final period," when he created some of his most acclaimed works. 

2. Their sizes vary greatly. 

The canvases range from roughly 4 1/2 by 6 feet all the way down to just 1 1/2 by 2 feet.

3. These card players weren't betting men.  

None of the five paintings show any money on the table for antes or pots. It has been speculated the quiet nature of the game combined with the lack of gambling could mean these men are enjoying a game similar to gin rummy

4. The Card Players are spread around the world.

Though sometimes reunited for shared exhibitions, The Card Players share no common home. One that features four men and a dour-looking boy is a highlight of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. A similar piece that lacks the little boy can be found in New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of three that portray a pair of card players is on view at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. Another can be seen at London's Courtauld Institute of Art, while the last is part of a private collection belonging to the royal family of Qatar. 

5. One of The Card Players sold for a record-breaking sum. 

As you might imagine, it costs a pretty penny to own art so coveted by prestigious museums. In 2011, Qatar's royal family paid Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos more than $250 million for the honor of owning it, setting a new record for the highest price ever paid for a work of art. 

6. Whether The Card Players still holds that record is a bit of a mystery.

Because the sale between Embiricos and the Qatari royals was a private deal, the exact price paid for The Card Players is unknown. Estimates typically place the figure between $250 and $300 million, but such vague ballpark guesses make it impossible to be sure the painting's sale price is still the highest on record. However, its potential conqueror would be Paul Gauguin's Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?), which was sold in February of 2015 for "close to $300 million."

7. The exact chronology of The Card Players' creation is a matter of debate. 

Art historians have long believed the paintings' compositions showed Cézanne had scaled down on figures (from five to two), setting, and canvas size as he progressed through the series. However, the findings of infrared scans of the pieces have called this commonly accepted theory into question. Instead, it's possible he used the smaller pieces to work his way up to the bigger, more complicated canvases. 

8. Cézanne looked really close to home for his models.

The men who posed for the Provencal peasants playing cards were farmhands, some of whom were employed at Cézanne's estate. 

9. Cézanne did extensive planning before painting. 

During the five-year span in which he painted The Card Players, Cézanne created a dozen or so sketches and several painted portraits as practice for his series. The same farmhands were called on, sometimes again and again, to sit for these test studies

10. Cézanne may have captured the café on location. 

With so many tests of The Card Players uncovered, it's been speculated that these sketches and early portraits were made while the models posed in a local café. From there, the practiced painter used these pieces—instead of the living models—as sources for the final paintings. This theory is supported by infrared scans that show a great deal of sketches and repainting within the acclaimed works. 

11. The Card Players defied the emotional convention of such a scene. 

Similar scenarios seen in 17th century Dutch and French art were defined by drama, like drunken buffoons bickering, brawling, and otherwise behaving badly. But Cezanne’s take on card players was true to his style of muted emotion. Instead, his scene is so quiet it has been described as "human still life." 

12. Thieves made off with one of The Card Players.

The Card Players now on exhibit in Paris was in the hands of bold burglars in August of 1961. It was the most famous of eight Cézanne paintings snatched from a traveling show in his hometown of Aix-en-Provence, France. Details of their recovery vary: Some sources say the paintings were returned a few months later once a ransom was paid, while others claim the whole lot was uncovered a year later in Marseille within an abandoned car. 

13. France commemorated the heist with a postage stamp. 

To show the depths of the national sense of loss over Card Players' theft, a memorial stamp was issued, creating a colorful marker for a grim event. 

14. The Card Players may have been inspired by a visit to the artist’s hometown museum. 

A 17th century painting by the Le Nain Brothers—also titled The Card Playerswas exhibited in Aix during Cézanne's time there. It's believed that the baroque depiction of men engaged in cards was a powerful muse for the boundary-pushing painter. 

15. It inspired Dogs Playing Poker.

Cézanne's Card Players was one of several notable muses for American painter Cassius Marcellus Coolidge's polarizing but popular series of paintings.

Art

Wish You Could ‘Shazam’ a Piece of Art? With Magnus, You Can

Manuel-F-O/iStock via Getty Images
Manuel-F-O/iStock via Getty Images

While museum artworks are often accompanied by tidy little placards that tell you the basics—title, artist, year, medium, dimensions, etc.—that’s not always the standard for art galleries and fairs. For people who don’t love tracking down a staff member every time they’d like to know more about a particular work, there’s Magnus, a Shazam-like app that lets you snap a photo of an artwork and will then tell you the title, artist, last price, and more.

The New York Times reports that Magnus has a primarily crowdsourced database of more than 10 million art images. Though the idea of creating Shazam for art seems fairly straightforward, the execution has been relatively complex, partially because of the sheer quantity of art in the world. As founder Magnus Resch explained to The New York Times, “There is a lot more art in the world than there are songs.”

Structural diversity in art adds another challenge to the process: it’s difficult for image recognition technology to register 3D objects like sculptures, however famous they may be. Resch also has to dodge copyright violations; he maintains that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act applies to his app, since the photos are taken and shared by users, but he still has had to remove some content. All things considered, Magnus’s approximate match rate of 70 percent is pretty impressive.

Since the process of buying and selling art often includes negotiation and prices can fluctuate drastically, Magnus gives potential purchasers the background information they need to at least decide whether they’re interested in pursuing a particular piece. Just like browsing around a boutique where prices aren’t included on the items, a lack of transparency can be a deterrent for new customers.

Such was the case for Jelena Cohen, a Colgate-Palmolive brand manager who bought her first photograph with the help of Magnus. “I used to go to these art fairs, and I felt embarrassed or shy, because nothing’s listed,” she told The New York Times. “I loved that the app could scan a piece and give you the exact history of it, when it was last sold, and the price it was sold for. That helped me negotiate.” Through Magnus, you can also keep track of artworks you’ve scanned in your digital collection, search for artworks by artist, and share images to social media.

One thing Magnus can’t do, however, is tell you whether an artwork is authentic or not. The truth is that sometimes even art experts have trouble doing that, as evidenced by the long history of notorious art forgeries.

[h/t The New York Times]

'The Far Side' May Be Making a Comeback Online

tilo/iStock, Getty Images Plus
tilo/iStock, Getty Images Plus

For the first time ever, it’s looking increasingly likely that cartoonist Gary Larson’s "The Far Side" will be available in a medium other than book collections or page-a-day calendars. A (slightly ambiguous) announcement on the official "Far Side" website promises that “a new online era” for the strip is coming soon.

From 1980 to 1995, "The Far Side" presented a wonderfully irreverent universe in which hunters had much to fear from armed and verbose deer, cows possessed a rich internal life, scientific experiments often went awry, and irony became a central conceit. In one of the more famous strips frequently pasted to refrigerator doors, a small child could be seen pushing on a door marked “pull.” Above him was a sign marking the building as a school for the gifted. In another strip, a woman is depicted looking nervously around a forest while cradling a vacuum cleaner. The caption: “The woods were dark and foreboding, and Alice sensed that sinister eyes were watching her every step. Worst of all, she knew that Nature abhorred a vacuum.”

Unlike most of his contemporaries, like Berkeley Breathed ("Bloom County") and Bill Watterson ("Calvin and Hobbes"), Larson has resisted reproduction of his work online. He famously circulated a letter to "Far Side" fan sites asking them to stop posting the single-panel strips, writing that the idea of his work being found on random websites was bothersome. “These cartoons are my ‘children,’ of sorts, and like a parent, I’m concerned about where they go at night without telling me,” he wrote.

Many obliged Larson, though the strip could still be found here and there. That he’s seemingly embracing a new method of distribution is good news for fans, but there’s no concrete evidence the now-retired cartoonist will be following in Breathed’s footsteps and producing new strips. ("Bloom County" returned as a Facebook comic in 2015.) The only indication of Larson’s active involvement is a new piece of art on the site’s landing page depicting some familiar "Far Side" characters being unthawed in a block of ice.

Larson’s comments on a return are few and far between. In 1998, he told The New York Times that going back to a strip was unlikely. “I don’t think so,” he said. “Never say never, but there’s a sense of ‘been there, done that.’” In that same profile, it was noted that 33 million "Far Side" books had been sold.

[h/t A.V. Club]

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