Painted in 1919, Vera Rockline's The Card Players, is the artist's most complex figurative Cubist work to come to auction in recent years. The Card Players belongs to a rare group of Cubist works painted in the years 1919-1921, immediately before the artist arrived in Paris in 1921, where she joined the Russian avant-garde artists painting in Montparnasse in the late teens and twenties. Rockline's work is often described as sensual and lyrical, influenced by both by Impressionism and contemporary Cubism.
Vera Rockline (1896-1934), born Schlezinger, in Moscow of a French mother and a Russian father, was noted for her painterly talent at an early age. She studied in Moscow with the neo-impressionist Il'ia Mashkov, a name synonymous with the Russian avant-garde, as well as with the Cubist Alexandra Exter in Kiev. Exter's influence can be seen in the present painting, but Rockline's palette and subtle gradation of tone is also reminiscent of the work of Paul Cézanne, the forerunner of the Cubists, whose Les jouers de cartes of circa 1890 in the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, is recalled to mind in the present work.
In 1919 Rockline left Russia, arriving in Paris in 1921 after a brief stay in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi (On an earlier trip in 1917 she had painted Vue de Tiflis, Georgia, sold at Christie's, 28 November 2007). She exhibited at the Salon d'Automne with great success in 1922, attracting the attention and admiration of contemporary critics as well as of the famous French fashion designer Paul Poiret, who bought two of her paintings. Poiret, a passionate and informed art collector, subsequently wrote an enthusiastic preface to her first solo exhibition at Galerie Charles Vildrac in 1925. She continued to exhibit to great acclaim at the Salon d'Automne, the Salon des Tuileries and the Salon des Independants, as well as in numerous Paris galleries throughout the 1920s, including Galerie Bernheim, Galerie le Studio and Galerie Barreiro from 1930.
The Card Players was exhibited in the 1934 retrospective of her work at Galerie Barreiro in November 1934 (the label on the stretcher confirms that this work was exhibited as no. 5 in the exhibition). Commenting on this exhibition, the French art critic Marius-Ary Leblond hailed Rockline as 'a sister of the great Venetians and of our own Renoir...a great lyrical talent' (quoted in 'La rétrospective Vera Rockline au Salon d'Automne', in La Vie, no. 19, November 1934). Leblond went on to state in a memorial preface at the Salon d'Automne in 1934, that the artist's premature death that year was 'one of the most painful losses to the Parisian art scene in recent years.' Her short but fruitful career left a small but significant volume of work, which makes the rare appearance of a canvas of the quality of The Card Players, an event of special interest in the history of the Russian avant-garde.
As with many women artists of her generation she is now finding her place in history, she was recently included the exhibition at the Musé du Montparnasse titled 'Elles de Montparnasse', where her work was exhibited alongside Tamara de Lempicka, Jacqueline Marval, Maria Blanchard, Natalia Gontcharova, Popova, and many more of her contemporaries.