The Card Players is a series of oil paintings by the French Post-Impressionist artist Paul Cézanne. Painted during Cézanne’s final period in the early 1890s, there are five paintings in the series. The versions vary in size, the number of players, and the setting in which the game takes place. Cézanne also completed numerous drawings and studies in preparation for The Card Players series. One version of The Card Players was sold in 2011 to the Royal Family of Qatar for a price variously estimated at between $250 million and $300 million, making it the third most expensive work of art ever sold.
Facts About Painting
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.