This double portrait showing two gentlemen seated playing cards in an elegant interior has traditionally been attributed to John Zoffany; and was included as such in Lady Victoria Manners and Dr G.C. Williamson's catalogue raisonée of the artist's work which was published in 1920. The then owner of the picture was Laura, Lady Simeon, widow of Sir Edmund Simeon, 5th Bt (d. 1915) and the sitters were identified as John Simeon (1756-1824) with his brother-in-law Colonel Cornwall and it was thought that the interior was likely to be that of either 60 Queen Anne Street, London or Walliscote, near Reading.
While the composition is certainly very reminiscent of Zoffany's work, the attribution to Zoffany is no longer generally accepted among scholars of Zoffany's work, although there is not a clear consensus of opinion. The composition bears strong similarities to Zoffany's group portraits and in particular to his celebrated portrait of The Dutton family (private collection) which shows a family playing cards in an elegant interior beside a fireplace. More specifically, several of the central elements in the picture also relate closely to elements in other works by Zoffany. The French fashioned and brass-enriched card table in the manner of Pierre Langlois, with its serpentined top and frame, veneered in black-figured 'zebrawood' at which the cardplayers are seated, for example, is almost identical to that in the Dutton family portrait. While the marble chimney-piece, which features so prominently in the background of the picture, designed in the 'antique' fashion with pilasters sculpted with veil-draped bacchic ram-heads and a bas-relief tablet of a courting shepherd and shepherdess, corresponds with that featured in Zoffany's portrait of the two eldest sons of King George III George, Prince of Wales, later George IV and Frederick, later Duke of York of circa 1764/5 (Royal Collection; M. Webster, Johan Zoffany, exhibition catalogue, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1976, no. 24). Likewise, the pattern of the Transylvanian carpet relates very closely to that shown draped over a table in Zoffany's Samuel Foote in 'The Devil Upon Two Sticks' of circa 1768-9 (private collection; M. Webster, Johan Zoffany, exhibition catalogue, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1976, no. 50). Under X-radiograph some alterations to the composition are apparent. Most interestingly, in the background above the left hand sitter's head, X-ray reveals that at an earlier stage the picture included a George III horizontal oval giltwood mirror, with a reflection of the sitters, that was later supressed. The use of elements that appear in other works by Zoffany suggests that the picture was at the very least executed by an artist with a close working knowledge of Zoffany's work. It has also been suggested that the picture may be a work left unfinished by Zoffany which was completed by another hand. This might explain the apparent qualitative imbalances in the picture in which it has been observed that the left hand sitter seems more plausible as Zoffany when compared to the right hand sitter and the interior in which they are both shown.
Laura, Lady Simeon, the first recorded owner of the picture, the daughter of Captain Walter Mountiford Westropp-Dawson (d.1949), of Charlesfort, Co. Wexford, had married Sir Edmund Charles Simeon, 5th Bt. (d. 1849), in 1883. The sitters have traditionally been identified as her husband's ancestor Sir John Simeon 1st Bt. and the latter's brother-in-law Colonel Cornwall, although, at a later stage, there was an idea that it might represent John Simeon and King George III. Sir John Simeon, 1st Bt., was Senior Master of the Court of Chancery and married Rebecca (d.1830), daughter of John Cornwall of Hendon, Middlesex. In 1812 he was entrusted to head the commission for placing King George III's real and personal estate in trust during his illness, a service for which he was given the baronetcy in 1815. However the apparent date of the picture makes the tradition that the picture shows Sir John Simeon seem implausible. The furniture and decoration of the interior are 1760s in fashion, while the left hand sitter's dress, and in particular the lace sleeve ruffles of his cuffs, suggest a date in the early 1770s. On the basis of the dates of execution of the various other works by Zoffany from which some of the principal elements in this picture are derived the picture cannot have been painted before the early 1770s. If the picture is datable to the early 1770s this would preclude the left hand sitter being Sir John Simeon who was born in 1756 and would therefore have been considerably younger at the time. An alternative is that the picture may show John Simeon's father Richard Simeon, a lawyer who is recorded as having died 'an old man' in 1784. The idea that the right hand sitter shows George III can be discounted as he is not shown wearing any orders.