Cézanne’s Card Player paintings, dating from the first half of the 1890s, are among the greatest works of art in the Western canon. This watercolour is a study for that extraordinary series of painting and yet even the profile of a man with a pipe, painted between 1892 and 1896, is a lucid, dramatic, self-contained masterpiece. Cézanne had reached a point of deep connection with his native land of Provence, ‘I live in my home town, and I rediscover the past in the faces of people my age. Most of all, I like the expressions of people who have grown old without drastically changing their habits, who just go along with the laws of time... See that old café owner under the spindle tree? What style he has!’
It is that style that is so vividly recreated in these studies and the later work that they prepared for. He drew on the characteristics of peasant life in Provence: the production and distribution of cards formed a thriving industry in Provence and, naturally, local players abounded. Card games were frequently noisy, drunk, disorderly affairs yet Cézanne translated this into a version of painted life that is personal, deliberate and charged with the crack of intellect.
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