CLOSE

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.

arrow
Art
5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Dan Bell
arrow
Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER