The Card Players - 1660
Jan STEEN (1625/26? - 1679)

Panel, 45.4 x 60.6 cm

Jan Steen: The Card Players

Private collection

Jan Steen is a highly esteemed 17th century Dutch painter. He had a flair for painting composite pictures that depicted the social life of his day remarkably well. He often painted scenes of revelry and feasting that had humorous and moralistic themes. That's why he's known not only as a painter, but also as a storyteller.

As a point of interest, he was also a brewer and ran his own tavern; an occupation that was passed onto him by his father. It is widely accepted that Steen was a cheerful drunk who was always getting himself into hot water. Apparently, there is even a well-known Dutch expression that translates to "a Jan Steen household", in other words "a perfect shambles".

Although the title of this painting does not suggest any treachery, the composition does contain elements that can easily be associated with cheating. The mischievous expression on the woman's face, the ace on the floor (that possibly fell out of a secret hiding place), one ace in her left hand, and the other ace held in her exposed hand on the table. To me there is very little doubt that Steen intended to portray a cheat.

Peter Woerde, one of the featured members on CARDSHARK Online, does not share my opinion. When exchanging ideas about this painting over emails he said to me: "I doubt though that Jan Steen really wanted to portray a cheater. These days, gambling doesn't live here [in the Netherlands] as much as in the States. Of course I don't know how much people gambled in those days, but I doubt it would have been a lot more. Secondly, the card on the floor is just a good example of a 'Jan Steen household'. Not everything is in its place as it should be. Just as the tablecloth isn't over the table completely a card might have fallen off the table."