Peter Wtewael was the eldest son of the Utrecht Mannerist painter Joachim Wtewael. He was the only child to follow in his father's footsteps as an artist, albeit briefly, between 1624 and 1630, producing a known corpus of five signed and about twenty attributed works. One explanation for this relatively small output can be found in an observation made by Joachim von Sandrart after his visit to Utrecht in 1626, which he later recorded in Teutsche Academy, published in 1675-1679: 'One of his [Joachim's] sons practiced this profession also, and came along far in it, and would have achieved great learning in this art, if he had remained active in it. For they have fallen love with the flax business and have made a fine fortune in it' (see A.W. Lowenthal, Joachim Wtewael and Dutch Mannerism, Groningen, 1986, p. 30, and see pp. 175-83 for paintings by Peter Wtewael).
First recognised by C. Wansink (op. cit., 1987, p. 3) as by Peter Wtewael, and confirmed by A. Lowenthal, the present picture had previously been given to Gerrit van Honthorst and Willem van der Vliet. Another version of the picture owned by the Arniston Estate Trustees was recorded as Circle of Trophime Bigot in B. Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, Oxford, 1979, I, p. 64, no. 833 and Turin, 1990, vol. II, pl. 883. Unlike his father, Peter Wtewael was particularly drawn to the chiaroscuro effects and illusionistic devices of the Caravaggisti. Here, echoing his early painting, The Supper at Emmaus (Oslo, National Gallery), the light source is hidden behind the expressive raised hands of a card player who theatrically pauses to decide which card to throw down, while his companions look on intently, clustered dramatically against the picture plane and a dark background.
Dr. Anne Lowenthal, to whom we are grateful, suggested at the time of the Monaco sale that the present picture could possibly have been 'Een kaerdtspeelder van P. Wttewale' listed by G. Brinkhuis, Schilderijn, I, pp. 9-10, in the family papers of the Wtewael decendants, A.H. Maertens van Sevenhoven te Arnhem (see Lowenthal, op. cit., p. 192).