The Card Cheaters (formerly called The Card Players)
Mathieu Le NAIN (1607 - 1677)

This is a lesser known painting amongst the numerous "descendants" of Caravaggio's masterpiece The Cardsharps. The part of the composition featuring the three foreground characters is very similar to the staging of the three characters in The Cardsharps, however this piece has a fourth character, an "innocent" kid holding a jug of wine - an element that seems to have been borrowed from La Tour's Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds (and/or The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs, if you will). The kid is situated in the background to better highlight the foreground scenery with the card players; his physical appearance seems to suggest that he is somehow related to the guy signaling the dupe's hand (his older brother, possibly) and the presence of the wine seems to suggest that the precious liquid was used to lure the dupe into the game. The dupe does look like he may have had "a few too many" and from a strategic point of view it makes all the sense in the world that the drinking preceded the card game.

Mathieu Le Nain:

From an artistic point of view this painting has many nice elements but unfortunately it also has a few technical imperfections that put a dent on the overall work. The expression of the charismatic cheat is rather nice and so is the overall appearance of the kid in the background. But those are both situated at the extreme edges of the painting, which means that these are not the details that are prominent, as the eye of the observer always tends to go towards the center of any painting. And it is exactly around the center of the painting where my eye finds a few details that I wish had been executed better.

The face of the dupe seems a tad distorted, as the upper half seems to have been drawn from a slightly different perspective then the lower half. Then there are a few obvious problems with attempts to draw foreshortenings, most prominently obvious on the cheat's right arm, but also somewhat on his left. There is also a less then perfect execution in the way the dupe's left hand is drawn.

The use of dramatic shadows is also rather nice and so is the overall composition. The central element of the composition is the dupe's raised hand. The cluster of the characters at the left side makes the cheat appear somewhat isolated, on the right side, which is a rather nice touch for emphasis and dramatic impact. The staging of the cheat's accomplice, whose eye level is above the two main characters at his sides frames the classic triangular composition of the main scenery. But the strategic placement of the crook's raised finger brings the fourth character closer to the main stage and also forms a secondary triangular composition between the boy, the dupe and the crook's raised finger.

What I find rather interesting are the similarities between this painting and Cezanne's masterpiece The Card Players. Obviously Le Nain who painted this canvas in the 17th century could not have been influenced by Cezanne who painted his Card Players two centuries later. But I wonder if the similarities between the two works are purely coincidental. Many master painters are known to use elements from other painters - not in an attempt to copy anyone, but rather as an homage, commentary, or as a way of using an older painting partially as an object for their own work. If you eliminate the two background characters you will see a striking resemblance between this composition and Cezanne's Card Players.


back