Men in bar playing cards, painting

Cézanne’s Card Players

21 October 2010 – 16 January 2011

“The Courtauld at its very best … truly remarkable.”
The Times

“The winning hand of a great master… To say that the whole is stunning is an understatement …”
The Independent

Paul Cézanne’s famous paintings of peasant card players have long been considered to be among his most iconic and powerful works. This landmark exhibition is the first to bring together the majority of these remarkable paintings alongside a magnificent group of closely related portraits of Provençal peasants and rarely seen preparatory oil sketches, watercolours and exquisite drawings.

The Courtauld Gallery’s two masterpieces from this series, The Card Players and Man with a Pipe, are joined by exceptional loans from international collections, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, to offer a visual feast of some of the artist’s finest paintings.

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, is 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 is a unique opportunity to enjoy these remarkable paintings in unprecedented depth. The exhibition brings together the most comprehensive group of these works ever staged, including three of the Card Players paintings, five of the most outstanding peasant portraits and the majority of the exquisite preparatory drawings, watercolours and oil studies. Cézanne’s Card Players stand alongside his Bathers series as the most ambitious and complex figurative works of his career.

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’s creation of a relatively large number of preparatory works for the Card Players paintings was highly unusual and indicates his commitment to this ambitious series. In preparation for the exhibition, The Courtauld and the Metropolitan collaborated on the first technical research project to look systematically at this group of works.